Genes | Free Full-Text | Adaptive Evolution of Rhizobial Symbiosis beyond Horizontal Gene Transfer: From Genome Innovation to Regulation Reconstruction

There are ubiquitous variations in symbiotic performance of different rhizobial strains associated with the same legume host in agricultural practices. This is due to polymorphisms of symbiosis genes and/or largely unexplored variations in integration efficiency of symbiotic function. Here, we reviewed cumulative evidence on integration mechanisms of symbiosis genes. Experimental evolution, in concert with reverse genetic studies based on pangenomics, suggests that gain of the same circuit of key symbiosis genes through horizontal gene transfer is necessary but sometimes insufficient for bacteria to establish an effective symbiosis with legumes. An intact genomic background of the recipient may not support the proper expression or functioning of newly acquired key symbiosis genes. Further adaptive evolution, through genome innovation and reconstruction of regulation networks, may confer the recipient of nascent nodulation and nitrogen fixation ability. Other accessory genes, either co-transferred with key symbiosis genes or stochastically transferred, may provide the recipient with additional adaptability in ever-fluctuating host and soil niches. Successful integrations of these accessory genes with the rewired core network, regarding both symbiotic and edaphic fitness, can optimize symbiotic efficiency in various natural and agricultural ecosystems. This progress also sheds light on the development of elite rhizobial inoculants using synthetic biology procedures.