, Volume 252, Issue 1, pp 169-175

Endophytic colonization of plant roots by nitrogen-fixing bacteria

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Abstract

Nitrogen-fixing bacteria are able to enter into roots from the rhizosphere, particularly at the base of emerging lateral roots, between epidermal cells and through root hairs. In the rhizosphere growing root hairs play an important role in symbiotic recognition in legume crops. Nodulated legumes in endosymbiosis with rhizobia are amongst the most prominent nitrogen-fixing systems in agriculture. The inoculation of non-legumes, especially cereals, with various non-rhizobial diazotrophic bacteria has been undertaken with the expectation that they would establish themselves intercellularly within the root system, fixing nitrogen endophytically and providing combined nitrogen for enhanced crop production. However, in most instances bacteria colonize only the surface of the roots and remain vulnerable to competition from other rhizosphere micro-organisms, even when the nitrogen-fixing bacteria are endophytic, benefits to the plant may result from better uptake of soil nutrients rather than from endophytic nitrogen fixation. Azorhizobium caulinodans is known to enter the root system of cereals, other non-legume crops and Arabidopsis, by intercellular invasion between epidermal cells and to internally colonize the plant intercellularly, including the xylem. This raises the possibility that xylem colonization might provide a non-nodular niche for endosymbiotic nitrogen fixation in rice, wheat, maize, sorghum and other non-legume crops. A particularly interesting, naturally occurring, non-nodular xylem colonising endophytic diazotrophic interaction with evidence for endophytic nitrogen fixation is that of Gluconacetobacter diazotrophicus in sugarcane. Could this beneficial endophytic colonization of sugarcane by G. diazotrophicus be extended to other members of the Gramineae, including the major cereals, and to other major non-legume crops of the World?