Comparison of the evolutionary dynamics of symbiotic and housekeeping loci: a case for the genetic coherence of rhizobial lineages.
In prokaryotes, lateral gene transfer across chromosomal lineages may be mediated by plasmids, phages, transposable elements, and other accessory DNA elements. However, the importance of such transfer and the evolutionary forces that may restrict gene exchange remain largely unexplored in native settings. In this study, tests of phylogenetic congruence are employed to explore the range of horizontal transfer of symbiotic (sym) loci among distinct chromosomal lineages of native rhizobia, the nitrogen-fixing symbiont of legumes. Rhizobial strains isolated from nodules of several host plant genera were sequenced at three loci: symbiotic nodulation genes (nodB and nodC), the chromosomal housekeeping locus glutamine synthetase II (GSII), and a portion of the 16S rRNA gene. Molecular phylogenetic analysis shows that each locus generally subdivides strains into the same major groups, which correspond to the genera Rhizobium, Sinorhizobium, and Mesorhizobium. This broad phylogenetic congruence indicates a lack of lateral transfer across major chromosomal subdivisions, and it contrasts with previous studies of agricultural populations showing broad transfer of sym loci across divergent chromosomal lineages. A general correspondence of the three rhizobial genera with major legume groups suggests that host plant associations may be important in the differentiation of rhizobial nod and chromosomal loci and may restrict lateral transfer among strains. The second major result is a significant incongruence of nod and GSII phylogenies within rhizobial subdivisions, which strongly suggests horizontal transfer of nod genes among congenerics. This combined evidence for lateral gene transfer within, but not between, genetic subdivisions supports the view that rhizobial genera are "reproductively isolated" and diverge independently. Differences across rhizobial genera in the specificity of host associations imply that the evolutionary dynamics of the symbiosis vary considerably across lineages in native settings.
Wernegreen, JJ; Riley, MA
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