Second site mutations specifically suppress the Fix- phenotype of Rhizobium meliloti ndvF mutations on alfalfa: identification of a conditional ndvF-dependent mucoid colony phenotype.
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Rhizobium meliloti mutants carrying ndvF insertion or deletion mutations induce nodules on alfalfa which contain very few infected cells and fail to fix N2 (Fix-). We have characterized five independent second site mutations (designated sfx) which completely suppress the Fix- phenotype of ndvF mutants on Medicago sativa but not on another R. meliloti host Melilotus alba. Genetic mapping and phenotypic analysis revealed that the suppressor mutations sfx-1, sfx-4 and sfx-5 mapped to a single locus which was distinct from another locus defined by the sfx-2 and sfx-3 mutations. Tn5-mob-mediated conjugal mapping experiments showed that the sfx-1 locus was located clockwise from trp-33 on the R. meliloti chromosome and a detailed cotransduction map of this region was generated. To clone the sfx-1 locus, we prepared a cosmid library from total DNA obtained from an sfx-1, ndvF deletion strain. From this library, a cosmid pTH56, which converted Fix- ndvF mutants to Fix+, was isolated. Southern blot analysis provided direct physical evidence that the insert DNA in plasmid pTH56 was contiguous with the sfx-1 region. On low osmolarity glutamate-yeast extract-mannitol-salts medium (GYM) agar medium, ndvF insertion and deletion mutants were found to have a mucoid colony phenotype, as opposed to the dry colony phenotype of the wild-type strain. This phenotype was shown to be dependent on the exoB and expE genes required for synthesis of exopolysaccharide II in R. meliloti but not to be dependent on genes required exclusively for the synthesis of the succinoglycan or exopolysaccharide I. Transduction of either sfx-1 or sfx-2 or transfer of the cosmid pTH56 into the ndvF mutants restored them to a wild-type dry colony phenotype. The mucoid phenotype is not responsible for the Fix- phenotype of ndvF mutants as the Fix-, ndvF exp double mutants can be complemented to Fix+ by introducing plasmids which carry only the wild-type ndvF genes.
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