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Symbiotic nitrogen fixation by rhizobia—the roots of a success story


By evolving the dual capacity of intracellular survival and symbiotic nitrogen fixation in legumes, rhizobia have achieved an ecological and evolutionary success that has reshaped our biosphere. Despite complex challenges, including a dual lifestyle of intracellular infection separated by a free-living phase in soil, rhizobial symbiosis has spread horizontally to hundreds of bacterial species and geographically throughout the globe. This symbiosis has also persisted and been reshaped through millions of years of history. Here, we summarize recent advances in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms, ecological settings, and evolutionary pathways that are collectively responsible for this symbiotic success story. We offer predictions of how this symbiosis can evolve under new influences and for the benefit of a burgeoning human population.

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