Discordant population structure among rhizobium divided genomes and their legume hosts

Alex B. Riley, Michael A. Grillo, Brendan Epstein, Peter Tiffin, Katy D. Heath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Symbiosis often occurs between partners with distinct life history characteristics and dispersal mechanisms. Many bacterial symbionts have genomes comprising multiple replicons with distinct rates of evolution and horizontal transmission. Such differences might drive differences in population structure between hosts and symbionts and among the elements of the divided genomes of bacterial symbionts. These differences might, in turn, shape the evolution of symbiotic interactions and bacterial evolution. Here we use whole genome resequencing of a hierarchically structured sample of 191 strains of Sinorhizobium meliloti collected from 21 locations in southern Europe to characterize population structures of this bacterial symbiont, which forms a root nodule symbiosis with the host plant Medicago truncatula. S. meliloti genomes showed high local (within-site) variation and little isolation by distance. This was particularly true for the two symbiosis elements, pSymA and pSymB, which have population structures that are similar to each other, but distinct from both the bacterial chromosome and the host plant. Given limited recombination on the chromosome, compared to the symbiosis elements, distinct population structures may result from differences in effective gene flow. Alternatively, positive or purifying selection, with little recombination, may explain distinct geographical patterns at the chromosome. Discordant population structure between hosts and symbionts indicates that geographically and genetically distinct host populations in different parts of the range might interact with genetically similar symbionts, potentially minimizing local specialization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2646-2659
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 2023


  • Ensifer
  • MGE
  • co-evolution
  • horizontal gene transfer
  • mutualism
  • plasmid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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