A collection of 121 isolates of Rhizobium leguminosarum biovar (bv.) trifolii was obtained from root nodules of Trifolium subterraneum L. (subclover) plants growing in an established pasture. The collection consisted of a single isolate from each of 18 plants sampled from seven microplots. The following year, a further 28 and 27 isolates were collected from the first and seventh sampling points, respectively. Analysis of restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLPs) of both chromosomal and Sym (symbiotic) plasmid DNA and multilocus enzyme electrophoresis (MLEE) were used to assess the diversity, genetic relationships and structure of this population. Symbiotic effectiveness tests were used to examine the symbiotic phenotype of each isolate collected in the first year. Analysis of RFLPs of the first year isolates revealed 13 chromosomal types and 25 Sym plasmid types. Similar Sym plasmid types were grouped into 14 families containing 1–6 members. No new chromosomal types and six new Sym plasmid types were detected in the second year. The symbiotic effectiveness of the first year isolates of the same Sym plasmid type was similar. Significant differences in symbiotic effectiveness were detected between different Sym plasmid types in the same plasmid family. Representative isolates of each chromosomal type Sym plasmid type identified in the first year were analysed using multilocus enzyme electrophoresis. Mean genetic diversity per locus was high (0.559). Enzyme electrophoresis revealed 17 electrophoretic types (ETs). Ouster analysis of the enzyme data revealed large genetic diversity amongst the ETs. Strong linkage disequilibrium was observed for the population as a whole, i.e. clonal population structure, but significantly less disequilibrium was observed among a cluster of ETs suggesting that recombination occurred between ETs within the cluster. Our results revealed that a population of naturally occurring isolates of Rhizobium leguminosarum bv. trifolii can be genetically diverse and support the possibility that recombination plays a role in generating new genotypes.
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