Phytochemistry Reviews

, 8:519 | Cite as

Host plant as an organizer of microbial evolution in the beneficial symbioses

  • Nikolai A. ProvorovEmail author
  • Nikolai I. Vorobyov


Evolution of beneficial plant–microbe symbioses is presented as a result of selective processes induced by hosts in the associated microbial populations. These processes ensure a success of “genuine mutualists” (which benefit the host, often at the expense of their own fitness) in competition with “symbiotic cheaters” (which consume the resources provided by host without expressing the beneficial traits). Using a mathematical model describing the cyclic microevolution of rhizobia–legume symbiosis, we suggest that the selective pressures in favor of N2-fixing (Fix+) strains operate within the in planta bacterial population due to preferential allocation of C resources into Fix+ nodules (positive partners’ feedbacks). Under the clonal infection of nodules, Fix+ strains (“genuine mutualists”) are supported by the group (inter-deme, kin) selection while under the mixed infections, this selection is ineffective since the Fix+ strains are over-competed by Fix ones (“symbiotic cheaters”) in the nodular habitats. Nevertheless, under mixed infections, Fix+ strains may be supported due to the coevolutionary responses form plant population which induce the mutualism-specific types of natural (group, individual) selection including the frequency dependent selection implemented in rhizobia population during the competition for host infection. Using the model of multi-strain bacterial competition for inoculation of symbiotic (rhizospheric, nodular) habitats, we demonstrate that the individual selection in favor of host-specific mutualist genotypes is more intensive than in favor of non-host-specific genotypes correlating the experimental data on the coordinated increases of symbiotic efficiency and specificity in the rhizobia–legume coevolution. However, an overall efficiency of symbiotic system is maximal when the non-host-specific mutualists are present in rhizobia population, and selection in favor of these mutualists operating at the whole population level is of key importance for improving the symbiosis. Construction of the agronomically valuable plant–microbe systems should provide the optimization of host-specific versus non-host-specific mutualists’ composition in legume inoculants combined with the clonal penetration of these mutualists into the nodules.


Biological altruism Darwinian, frequency-dependent and group (inter-deme, kin) selection Positive partners’ feedbacks Rhizobia–legume symbiosis Symbiotic N2 fixation 



Supported by Russian Foundation of Basic Research (grant 09-04-00907a).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.All-Russia Research Institute for Agricultural MicrobiologySt.-Petersburg, Pushkin-8Russia

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