Inoculum droplets of approximately 10 nanoliter volume and containing about 10 Rhizobium meliloti cells were placed onto the root surface of alfalfa seedlings in plastic growth pouches at either the root tip, the position of the smallest emergent root hairs, or at a site midway between these points. The droplets were initially confined to an area of about 0.2 square millimeter at the point of application. By 48 and 96 hours after inoculation, the inoculum bacteria and their progeny were distributed over several centimeters of the root between the initial site of deposition and the growing root tip, reaching densities of 103 to 104 bacteria per centimeter near the site of initial deposition and decreasing exponentially from that point toward the root tip. Graphite particles deposited on the root surface close to the growing tip were similarly distributed along the root length by 48 and 96 hours, suggesting that passive displacement by root cell elongation was primarily responsible for the spread of bacteria. A nonmotile mutant of R. meliloti colonized alfalfa roots to the same extent as the wild type and was usually distributed in the same manner, indicating that bacterial motility contributed little under these conditions to long distance spread of the bacteria. However, when applied in low numbers, R. meliloti mutants defective in motility or chemotaxis were considerably less efficient in initiating nodules near the point of inoculation than the wild type. This implies that motility and/or chemotaxis contribute significantly to local exploration for suitable infection sites. Almost all nodules on the primary root formed within a few millimeters of the spot-inoculation site, indicating that, under our experimental conditions, movement and multiplication of R. meliloti on the root surface were not sufficient to maintain an adequate population in the infectible region of the root during root growth.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Plant Science