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Legumes select symbiosis island sequence variants in Bradyrhizobium


Matthew A. Parker, Fax: 607 777 6521; E-mail:


Bradyrhizobium strains sampled from 14 legume genera native to eastern North America showed substantial host-related phylogenetic clustering at three loci in the symbiotic island (SI) region (nodC, nifD, nifH), indicating selection of distinct suites of SI lineages by different legumes. Bacteria assorted consistently with particular legumes across two regions separated by 800 km, implying recurrent assembly of the same symbiotic combinations. High genetic polymorphism of all three SI loci relative to four nonsymbiotic loci supported the inference that a form of multiple-niche balancing selection has acted on the SI region, arising from differential symbiont utilization by different legume taxa. Extensive discordance between the tree for SI variants and a phylogenetic tree inferred for four housekeeping loci implied that lateral transfer of the symbiosis island region has been common (at least 26 transfer events among 85 Bradyrhizobium strains analysed). Patterns of linkage disequilibrium also supported the conclusion that recombination has impacted symbiotic and nonsymbiotic regions unequally. The high prevalence of lateral transfer suggests that acquisition of a novel SI variant may often confer a strong selective advantage for recipient cells.