Symbiotic nitrogen fixation (SNF) is an energetically expensive process performed by bacteria during endosymbiotic relationships with plants. The bacteria require the plant to provide a carbon source for the generation of reductant to power SNF. While C4-dicarboxylates (succinate, fumarate, and malate) appear to be the primary, if not sole, carbon source provided to the bacteria, the contribution of each C4-dicarboxylate is not known. We address this issue using genetic and systems-level analyses. Expression of a malate-specific transporter (MaeP) in
Sinorhizobium melilotiRm1021 dctmutants unable to transport C4-dicarboxylates resulted in malate import rates of up to 30% that of the wild type. This was sufficient to support SNF with Medicago sativa, with acetylene reduction rates of up to 50% those of plants inoculated with wild-type S. meliloti. Rhizobium leguminosarumbv. viciae 3841 dctmutants unable to transport C4-dicarboxylates but expressing the maePtransporter had strong symbiotic properties, with Pisum sativumplants inoculated with these strains appearing similar to plants inoculated with wild-type R. leguminosarum. This was despite malate transport rates by the mutant bacteroids being 10% those of the wild type. An RNA-sequencing analysis of the combined P. sativum- R. leguminosarumnodule transcriptome was performed to identify systems-level adaptations in response to the inability of the bacteria to import succinate or fumarate. Few transcriptional changes, with no obvious pattern, were detected. Overall, these data illustrated that succinate and fumarate are not essential for SNF and that, at least in specific symbioses, l-malate is likely the primary C4-dicarboxylate provided to the bacterium. IMPORTANCESymbiotic nitrogen fixation (SNF) is an economically and ecologically important biological process that allows plants to grow in nitrogen-poor soils without the need to apply nitrogen-based fertilizers. Much research has been dedicated to this topic to understand this process and to eventually manipulate it for agricultural gains. The work presented in this article provides new insights into the metabolic integration of the plant and bacterial partners. It is shown that malate is the only carbon source that needs to be available to the bacterium to support SNF and that, at least in some symbioses, malate, and not other C4-dicarboxylates, is likely the primary carbon provided to the bacterium. This work extends our knowledge of the minimal metabolic capabilities the bacterium requires to successfully perform SNF and may be useful in further studies aiming to optimize this process through synthetic biology approaches. The work describes an engineering approach to investigate a metabolic process that occurs between a eukaryotic host and its prokaryotic endosymbiont.