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Improving nitrogen fixation in legumes by plant breeding; the relevance of host selection experiments in red clover (Trifolium pratense L.) and subterranean clover (T. subterraneum L.)

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Summary

This paper reviews (i) basic studies on the genetics of symbiosis in red clover (a self-sterile species) and subterranean clover (cleistogamous) and (ii) work on selection and plant breeding to increase nitrogen fixation in these hosts.

Symbiotic effectiveness in red clover is influenced by many major and minor genes. The highly effective phenotype is inherited in a complex manner associated with early nodulation and the formation of large amounts of persistent bacteroid-containing tissue. Lines bred to fix more nitrogen with one strain ofRhizobium trifolii do so with most but not all other strains examined. They also show slightly increased vigour when grown on nitrate. The highly effective response is correlated with abundant nodulation and an early flowering habit, the evidence from breeding studies indicating that this correlation is not absolute. Normally effective and highly effective nodules have the same specific nitrogenase activities. The expression of the highly effective response is relatively little affected by environmental factors (temperature, light intensity, day length, supplementary carbon-di-oxide). Inbreeding substantially degrades the symbiotic response.

Heterosis is shown in crosses between cultivars of subterranean clover but otherwise selection to increase effectiveness in this host was unsuccessful.

The relevance of these results (and their physiological aspects) for the improvement of grain legumes is discussed.

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Nutman, P.S. Improving nitrogen fixation in legumes by plant breeding; the relevance of host selection experiments in red clover (Trifolium pratense L.) and subterranean clover (T. subterraneum L.). Plant Soil 82, 285–301 (1984). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02184268

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Key words

  • Clover
  • Nitrogen fixation
  • Rhizobium
  • Root nodule
  • Selection and plant breeding
  • Symbiosis
  • Trifolium pratense
  • T. subterraneum