The Rhizobium--legume symbiosis

Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1979 Apr 11;204(1155):219-33. doi: 10.1098/rspb.1979.0024.


The rhizobia are soil microorganisms that can interact with leguminous plants to form root nodules within which conditions are favourable for bacterial nitrogen fixation. Legumes allow the development of very large rhizobial populations in the vicinity of their roots. Infections and nodule formation require the specific recognition of host and Rhizobium, probably mediated by plant lectins. Penetration of the host by a compatible Rhizobium species usually provokes host root cell division to form the nodule, and a process of differentiation by both partners then ensues. In most cases the rhizobia alter morphologically to form bacteroids, which are usually larger than the free-living bacteria and have altered cell walls. At all stages during infection, the bacteria are bounded by host cell plasmalemma. The enzyme nitrogenase is synthesized by the bacteria and, if leghaemoglobin is present, nitrogen fixation will occur. Leghaemoglobin is a product of the symbiotic interaction, since the globin is produced by the plant while the haem is synthesized by the bacteria. In the intracellular habitat the bacteria are dependent upon the plant for supplies of energy and the bacteroids, in particular, appear to differentiate so that they are no longer able to utilize the nitrogen that they fix. Regulation of the supply of carbohydrate and the use of the fixed nitrogen thus appear to be largely governed by the host.

MeSH terms

  • Leghemoglobin / physiology
  • Nitrogenase / metabolism
  • Plant Physiological Phenomena*
  • Rhizobium / physiology*
  • Species Specificity
  • Symbiosis*


  • Leghemoglobin
  • Nitrogenase