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Effects of organic substrates and chloramphenicol or nalidixic acid on acetylene reduction associated with roots of intact maize and sorghum plants

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To study the role or organic substrate availability as a factor limiting associative N2-fixation we measured acetylene reduction (AR) associated with roots of intact maize and sorghum plants before and after adding organic substrates to the nutrient solution in a hydroponic system. Chloramphenicol (Cam) or nalidixic acid (NA) was added along with the substrate to determine whether bacterial protein synthesis or cell replication was necessary to support increased AR following amendment. The grasses were grown in pots in a greenhouse or on a light bench for 4–6 weeks, and then brought into the laboratory to measure AR. Intact plants were separated from soil and transferred into plastic cylinders containing an N-free nutrient solution. The roots were isolated from the shoots by a silicone rubber seal and exposed to oxygen concentrations of 0–10 kPa. Rates of AR were measured before and after adding 0.01–0.10% (w/v) carbon as glucose, malate, succinate, ethanol, acetate, glutarate, propionate, or resorcinol. Only resorcinol and ethanol failed to substantially increase AR activity. Rates of AR increased by 1.5-to 2-fold within 2h and by 5-to 15-fold after 24h. Cam and NA prevented the stimulation of AR by glucose, but neither inhibitor caused AR associated with unamended plants to decrease. We conclude that the highly variable rates of AR that have been reported for associative symbioses, even under well-controlled conditions were governed to a large extent by the amount and type of organic substrates exuded by the roots. Proliferation of diazotrophs appeared to be necessary to increase root-associated AR activity but not to maintain a constant level of activity.

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Alexander, D.B., Zuberer, D.A. Effects of organic substrates and chloramphenicol or nalidixic acid on acetylene reduction associated with roots of intact maize and sorghum plants. Plant Soil 112, 61–67 (1988).

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Key words

  • acetylene reduction
  • nitrogen fixation
  • organic substrates
  • oxygen partial pressure
  • Sorghum bicolor
  • Zea mays