A polysaccharide depolymerase isolated from the phage lysate of Rhizobium trifolii 4S was used to fragment capsular polysaccharides (CPS) and extracellular polysaccharides (EPS) of R. trifolii 0403 into oligosaccharides. These products were analyzed for clover lectin (trifoliin A)-binding ability, effect on infection of white clover root hairs, and changes in glycosyl and noncarbohydrate composition with culture age. The oligosaccharides from CPS of cultures grown on agar plates for 3, 5, and 7 days exhibited lectin-binding ability at levels similar to those of the corresponding intact CPS. The intact EPS did not bind to clover lectin, although the oligosaccharide fragments from EPS did. In contrast, oligosaccharides from deacetylated CPS had less than half the lectin-binding ability of the native polysaccharide substrate. The CPS from 5-day-old cultures, its corresponding oligosaccharide fragments, and the oligosaccharide fragments of EPS from 5-day-old cultures, all at a concentration of 2.5 micrograms per seedling, stimulated infection thread formation in root hairs of clover seedlings inoculated with R. trifolii 0403. Thus, this bacteriophage-induced polysaccharide depolymerase converted the acidic CPS and EPS of R. trifolii 0403 into biologically active oligosaccharides capable of binding trifoliin A and stimulating root hair infection. The amount of the noncarbohydrate substitutions (pyruvate, acetate, and ether-linked 3-hydroxybutyrate) in the CPS oligosaccharides changed with culture age as shown by 1H-nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. The binding of trifoliin A, therefore, appears to be sensitive to changes in the degree of substitution of noncarbohydrate substitutions in the CPS of R. trifolii 0403.