, Volume 245, Issue 1, pp 147-162

Breeding for better symbiosis

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Abstract

The present review gives a critical assessment of the literature dealing with symbiosis between rhizobia and legumes and between AM fungi and most plants. Associative N2 fixation (even though strictly speaking not a symbiotic relationship) does have some characteristics of symbiosis due to mutualistic dependence and usefulness of the relationship, and is therefore covered in this review. Nodulation in the rhizobia–legume symbiosis may be limited by an insufficient amount of the nod-gene inducers released from seed and/or roots. However, there is genotypic variation in the germplasm of legume species in all components of the signalling pathway, suggesting a prospect for improving nodulation by selecting and/or transforming legume genotypes for increased exudation of flavonoids and other signalling compounds. Deciphering chromosomal location as well as cloning nod, nif and other genes important in nodulation and N2 fixation will allow manipulation of the presence and expression of these genes to enhance the symbiotic relationship. Increased efficacy of symbiotic N2 fixation can be achieved by selecting not only the best host genotypes but by selecting the best combination of host genotype and nodule bacteria. As flavonoids exuded by legume seedlings may not only be nod-gene inducers, but also stimulants for hyphal growth of the AM fungi, selecting and/or transforming plants to increase exudation of these flavonoids may result in a double benefit for mycorrhizal legumes. Mutants unable to sustain mycorrhizal colonisation are instrumental in understanding the colonisation process, which may ultimately pay off in breeding for the more effective symbiosis. In conclusion, targeted efforts to breed genotypes for improved N2 fixation and mycorrhizal symbiosis will bring benefits in increased yields of crops under a wide range of environmental conditions and will contribute toward sustainability of agricultural ecosystems in which soil-plant-microbe interactions will be better exploited.