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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1999 Oct 26;96(22):12275-80.

Identification of lumichrome as a sinorhizobium enhancer of alfalfa root respiration and shoot growth.

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Department of Agronomy and Range Science, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


Sinorhizobium meliloti bacteria produce a signal molecule that enhances root respiration in alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) and also triggers a compensatory increase in whole-plant net carbon assimilation. Nuclear magnetic resonance, mass spectrometry, and ultraviolet-visible absorption identify the enhancer as lumichrome, a common breakdown product of riboflavin. Treating alfalfa roots with 3 nM lumichrome increased root respiration 21% (P < 0.05) within 48 h. A closely linked increase in net carbon assimilation by the shoot compensated for the enhanced root respiration. For example, applying 5 nM lumichrome to young alfalfa roots increased plant growth by 8% (P < 0.05) after 12 days. Soaking alfalfa seeds in 5 nM lumichrome before germination increased growth by 18% (P < 0.01) over the same period. In both cases, significant growth enhancement (P < 0.05) was evident only in the shoot. S. meliloti requires exogenous CO2 for growth and may benefit directly from the enhanced root respiration that is triggered by lumichrome. Thus Sinorhizobium-alfalfa associations, which ultimately form symbiotic N2-reducing root nodules, may be favored at an early developmental stage by lumichrome, a previously unrecognized mutualistic signal. The rapid degradation of riboflavin to lumichrome under many physiological conditions and the prevalence of riboflavin release by rhizosphere bacteria suggest that events demonstrated here in the S. meliloti-alfalfa association may be widely important across many plant-microbe interactions.

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