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Open Access Research article

The conjugative plasmid of a bean-nodulating Sinorhizobium fredii strain is assembled from sequences of two Rhizobium plasmids and the chromosome of a Sinorhizobium strain

Laura Cervantes1, Patricia Bustos2, Lourdes Girard3, Rosa Isela Santamaría2, Guillermo Dávila2, Pablo Vinuesa1, David Romero1 and Susana Brom1*

Author Affiliations

1 Programa de Ingeniería Genómica, Centro de Ciencias Genómicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Av. Universidad 1001, Cuernavaca, Morelos, CP 62240, México

2 Programa de Genómica Evolutiva, Centro de Ciencias Genómicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Av. Universidad 1001, Cuernavaca, Morelos, CP 62240, México

3 Programa de Genómica Funcional de Procariotes, Centro de Ciencias Genómicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Av. Universidad 1001, Cuernavaca, Morelos, CP 62240, México

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BMC Microbiology 2011, 11:149  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-11-149

Published: 25 June 2011

Abstract

Background

Bean-nodulating Rhizobium etli originated in Mesoamerica, while soybean-nodulating Sinorhizobium fredii evolved in East Asia. S. fredii strains, such as GR64, have been isolated from bean nodules in Spain, suggesting the occurrence of conjugative transfer events between introduced and native strains. In R. etli CFN42, transfer of the symbiotic plasmid (pRet42d) requires cointegration with the endogenous self-transmissible plasmid pRet42a. Aiming at further understanding the generation of diversity among bean nodulating strains, we analyzed the plasmids of S. fredii GR64: pSfr64a and pSfr64b (symbiotic plasmid).

Results

The conjugative transfer of the plasmids of strain GR64 was analyzed. Plasmid pSfr64a was self-transmissible, and required for transfer of the symbiotic plasmid. We sequenced pSfr64a, finding 166 ORFs. pSfr64a showed three large segments of different evolutionary origins; the first one presented 38 ORFs that were highly similar to genes located on the chromosome of Sinorhizobium strain NGR234; the second one harbored 51 ORFs with highest similarity to genes from pRet42d, including the replication, but not the symbiosis genes. Accordingly, pSfr64a was incompatible with the R. etli CFN42 symbiotic plasmid, but did not contribute to symbiosis. The third segment contained 36 ORFs with highest similarity to genes localized on pRet42a, 20 of them involved in conjugative transfer. Plasmid pRet42a was unable to substitute pSfr64a for induction of pSym transfer, and its own transfer was significantly diminished in GR64 background. The symbiotic plasmid pSfr64b was found to differ from typical R. etli symbiotic plasmids.

Conclusions

S. fredii GR64 contains a chimeric transmissible plasmid, with segments from two R. etli plasmids and a S. fredii chromosome, and a symbiotic plasmid different from the one usually found in R. etli bv phaseoli. We infer that these plasmids originated through the transfer of a symbiotic-conjugative-plasmid cointegrate from R. etli to a S. fredii strain, and at least two recombination events among the R. etli plasmids and the S. fredii genome. As in R. etli CFN42, the S. fredii GR64 transmissible plasmid is required for the conjugative transfer of the symbiotic plasmid. In spite of the similarity in the conjugation related genes, the transfer process of these plasmids shows a host-specific behaviour.