Mutation in the pssM gene encoding ketal pyruvate transferase leads to disruption of Rhizobium leguminosarum bv. viciae-Pisum sativum symbiosis

J Appl Microbiol. 2010 Aug;109(2):731-742. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2672.2010.04702.x. Epub 2010 Feb 11.


Aims: To study the question whether acidic exopolysaccharide (EPS) modification, e.g. pyruvylation, plays any role in the development of Rhizobium leguminosarum/Pisum sativum symbiosis.

Method and results: The amino acid sequence deduced from the pssM gene, localized within the pss (polysaccharide synthesis) gene locus, was shown to be homologous to several known and putative ketal pyruvate transferases, including ExoV from Sinorhizobium meliloti and GumL from Xanthomonas campestris. Rh. l. bv. viciae strain VF39 carrying a Km-cassette insertion into the pssM gene was obtained by the gene replacement technique. Knock-out of pssM led to the absence of the pyruvic acid ketal group at the subterminal glucose in the repeating unit of EPS as it was shown by (13)C and (1)H nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) analysis. Complementation in trans restored the EPS modification in the pssM mutant. Disruption of the pssM gene resulted also in the formation of aberrant non-nitrogen-fixing nodules on peas. Ultrastructural studies of mutant nodules revealed normal nodule invasion and release of bacteria into the plant cell cytoplasm, but further differentiation of bacteroids was impaired, and the existing symbiosomes underwent lysis.

Conclusion: PssM encodes ketal pyruvate transferase involved in the modification of the Rh. l. bv. viciae EPS. The absence of subterminal glucose pyruvylation in the EPS repeating units negatively influences (directly or indirectly) the formation of the nitrogen-fixing symbiosis with peas.

Significance and impact of the study: Our finding that the absence of modification even at the single position of EPS is likely to be crucial for establishment of nitrogen-fixing symbiosis argues in favour of the idea concerning their specific signalling role in this process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acyltransferases / genetics*
  • Carbohydrate Sequence
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional
  • Nitrogen Fixation / genetics
  • Peas / microbiology*
  • Peas / ultrastructure
  • Polysaccharides, Bacterial / chemistry
  • Polysaccharides, Bacterial / metabolism
  • Rhizobium leguminosarum / enzymology
  • Rhizobium leguminosarum / genetics
  • Rhizobium leguminosarum / physiology*
  • Symbiosis* / genetics


  • Polysaccharides, Bacterial
  • Acyltransferases
  • ketal pyruvate transferase