A paradigm for endosymbiotic life: cell differentiation of Rhizobium bacteria provoked by host plant factors

Annu Rev Microbiol. 2013;67:611-28. doi: 10.1146/annurev-micro-092412-155630.


Symbiosis between Rhizobium bacteria and legumes leads to the formation of the root nodule. The endosymbiotic bacteria reside in polyploid host cells as membrane-surrounded vesicles where they reduce atmospheric nitrogen to support plant growth by supplying ammonia in exchange for carbon sources and energy. The morphology and physiology of endosymbionts, despite their common function, are highly divergent in different hosts. In galegoid plants, the endosymbionts are terminally differentiated, uncultivable polyploid cells, with remarkably elongated and even branched Y-shaped cells. Bacteroid differentiation is controlled by host peptides, many of which have antibacterial activity and require the bacterial function of BacA. Although the precise and combined action of several hundred host peptides and BacA has yet to be discovered, similarities, especially to certain insect-bacterium symbioses involving likewise host peptides for manipulation of endosymbionts, suggest convergent evolution. Rhizobium-legume symbiosis provides a rich source of information for understanding host-controlled endosymbiotic life in eukaryotic cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution
  • Fabaceae / microbiology*
  • Fabaceae / physiology
  • Plant Roots / microbiology
  • Plant Roots / physiology
  • Rhizobium / genetics
  • Rhizobium / growth & development
  • Rhizobium / physiology*
  • Symbiosis*