• alkaloid;
  • calystegine;
  • exudate;
  • nutritional mediator;
  • rhizosphere colonization;
  • Sinorhizobium


Calystegines are plant secondary metabolites produced by the roots of a few plant species, and the ability to catabolize calystegines is infrequent in rhizosphere bacteria. In Sinorhizobium meliloti Rm41, the endosymbiont of the legume Medicago sativa, this ability results from the presence of the genes cac (for calystegine catabolism) located on the nonsymbiotic plasmid pRme41a. The effect of the cac catabolic plasmid pRme41a on the ability of Rm41 to colonize the rhizosphere of calystegine-positive plants was studied using derivatives of Rm41 with or without cac catabolic plasmid. When strains were inoculated alone, the presence of a cac catabolic plasmid had no effect on their colonization of the rhizosphere, regardless of whether plants produced calystegines or not. However, a spontaneous rifampicin-resistant mutant of Rm41 containing a cac catabolic plasmid reached population levels in the rhizosphere of calystegine-positive plants that were several orders of magnitude higher than those of the same strain without the plasmid, when each was co-inoculated with a derivative of Rm41 cured of pRme41a. In contrast, the cac catabolic plasmid provided little or no selective advantage in the rhizosphere of calystegine-negative plants. In conclusion, the cac catabolic plasmid pRme41a can contribute to the ability of S. meliloti Rm41 to colonize the rhizosphere of alternative, nonlegume plant hosts producing calystegines.