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Alfalfa yield response to inoculation with recombinant strains of Rhizobium meliloti with an extra copy of dctABD and/or modified nifA expression.

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  • Research Article
  • Agricultural Science
  • Design


The construction of rhizobial strains which increase plant biomass under controlled conditions has been previously reported. However, there is no evidence that these newly constructed strains increase legume yield under agricultural conditions. This work tested the hypothesis that carefully manipulating expression of additional copies of nifA and dctABD in strains of Rhizobium meliloti would increase alfalfa yield in the field. The rationale for this hypothesis is based on the positive regulatory role that nifA plays in the expression of the nif regulon and the fact that a supply of dicarboxylic acids from the plant is required as a carbon and energy source for nitrogen fixation by the Rhizobium bacteroids in the nodule. These recombinant strains, as well as the wild-type strains from which they were derived, are ideal tools to examine the effects of modifying or increasing the expression of these genes on alfalfa biomass. The experimental design comprised seven recombinant strains, two wild-type strains, and an uninoculated control. Each treatment was replicated eight times and was conducted at four field sites in Wisconsin. Recombinant strain RMBPC-2, which has an additional copy of both nifA and dctABD, increased alfalfa biomass by 12.9% compared with the yield with the wild-type strain RMBPC and 17.9% over that in the uninoculated control plot at the site where soil nitrogen and organic matter content was lowest. These increases were statistically significant at the 5% confidence interval for each of the three harvests made during the growing season. Strain RMBPC-2 did increase alfalfa biomass at the Hancock site; however, no other significant increases or decreases in alfalfa biomass were observed with the seven other recombinant strains at that site. At three sites where this experiment was conducted, either native rhizobial populations or soil nitrogen concentrations were high. At these sites, none of the recombinant strains affected yield. We conclude that RMBPC -2 can increase alfalfa yields under field conditions of nitrogen limitation, low endogenous rhizobial competitors, and sufficient moisture.

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