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A Stable Genetic Transformation System and Implications of the Type IV Restriction System in the Nitrogen-Fixing Plant Endosymbiont Frankia alni ACN14a.

  • Author(s): Gifford, Isaac
  • Vance, Summer
  • Nguyen, Giang
  • Berry, Alison M
  • et al.
Abstract

Genus Frankia is comprised primarily of nitrogen-fixing actinobacteria that form root nodule symbioses with a group of hosts known as the actinorhizal plants. These plants are evolutionarily closely related to the legumes that are nodulated by the rhizobia. Both host groups utilize homologs of nodulation genes for root-nodule symbiosis, derived from common plant ancestors. The corresponding endosymbionts, Frankia and the rhizobia, however, are distantly related groups of bacteria, leading to questions about their symbiotic mechanisms and evolutionary history. To date, a stable system of electrotransformation has been lacking in Frankia despite numerous attempts by research groups worldwide. We have identified type IV methyl-directed restriction systems, highly-expressed in a range of actinobacteria, as a likely barrier to Frankia transformation. Here we report the successful electrotransformation of the model strain F. alni ACN14a with an unmethylated, broad host-range replicating plasmid, expressing chloramphenicol-resistance for selection and GFP as a marker of gene expression. This system circumvented the type IV restriction barrier and allowed the stable maintenance of the plasmid. During nitrogen limitation, Frankia differentiates into two cell types: the vegetative hyphae and nitrogen-fixing vesicles. When the expression of egfp under the control of the nif gene cluster promoter was localized using fluorescence imaging, the expression of nitrogen fixation in nitrogen-limited culture was localized in Frankia vesicles but not in hyphae. The ability to separate gene expression patterns between Frankia hyphae and vesicles will enable deeper comparisons of molecular signaling and metabolic exchange between Frankia-actinorhizal and rhizobia-legume symbioses to be made, and may broaden potential applications in agriculture. Further downstream applications are possible, including gene knock-outs and complementation, to open up a range of experiments in Frankia and its symbioses. Additionally, in the transcriptome of F. alni ACN14a, type IV restriction enzymes were highly expressed in nitrogen-replete culture but their expression strongly decreased during symbiosis. The down-regulation of type IV restriction enzymes in symbiosis suggests that horizontal gene transfer may occur more frequently inside the nodule, with possible new implications for the evolution of Frankia.

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