, Volume 110, Issue 2, pp 157-165

Mechanisms of infection of plants by nitrogen fixing organisms

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Heterotrophic nitrogen-fixing microorganisms can enter plants via wounds, root hairs or intact epidermises. All at some stage need the ability to digest primary cell walls and/or middle lamellas. None appears to digest secondary walls. The ability of any organism to infect a particular plant reflects (a) the enzymes produced by the microorganism (and possibly, as part of its reaction, the plant); (b) the exact nature of the primary wall; (c) the distribution of secondary walls. Plants may respond to infection by hypersensitive and other reactions which could be triggered by production of cell wall fragments. Infection threads of secondary wall material may be essential for root hair infection and where cell boundaries are crossed. Entry into host cells other than by infection threads involves a delicate balance between endophyte and host. This may only be achieved in one or a few cells, which may then divide repeatedly to produce a symbiotic structure.