Animal Production Science Animal Production Science Society
Food, fibre and pharmaceuticals from animals

Nutritional constraints on root nodule bacteria affecting symbiotic nitrogen fixation: a review

Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 41(3) 417 - 433
Published: 2001


Root nodule bacteria require access to adequate concentrations of mineral nutrients for metabolic processes to enable their survival and growth as free-living soil saprophytes, and in their symbiotic relationship with legumes. Essential nutrients, with a direct requirement in metabolism of rhizobia are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, copper, zinc, molybdenum, nickel, cobalt and selenium. Boron does not seem to be required by rhizobia, but is essential for the establishment of effective legume symbioses. Nutrient constraints can affect both free-living and symbiotic forms of root nodule bacteria, but whether they do is a function of a complex series of events and interactions. Important physiological characteristics of rhizobia involved in, or affected by, their mineral nutrition include nutrient uptake, growth rate, gene regulation, nutrient storage, survival, genetic exchange and the viable non-culturable state. There is considerable variation between genera, species and strains of rhizobia in their response to nutrient deficiency. The effects of nutrient deficiencies on free-living rhizobia in the soil are poorly understood. Competition between strains of rhizobia for limiting phosphorus and iron in the rhizosphere may affect their ability to nodulate legumes. Processes in the development of some legume symbioses specifically require calcium, cobalt, copper, iron, potassium, molybdenum, nickel, phosphorus, selenium, zinc and boron. Limitations of phosphorus, calcium, iron and molybdenum in particular, can reduce legume productivity by affecting nodule development and function. The effects of nutrient deficiencies on rhizobia–legume signalling are not understood. The supply of essential inorganic nutrients to bacteroids in relation to nutrient partitioning in nodule tissues and nutrient transport to the symbiosome may affect effectiveness of nitrogen fixation. An integration of molecular approaches with more traditional biochemical, physiological and field-based studies is needed to improve understanding of the agricultural importance of rhizobia response to nutrient stress.

© CSIRO 2001

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