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New Phytol. 2007;174(1):11-25.

Evolving ideas of legume evolution and diversity: a taxonomic perspective on the occurrence of nodulation.

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Division of Applied and Environmental Biology, College of Life Sciences, University of Dundee, Dundee, UK.


Legumes evolved about 60 million years ago (Ma), and nodulation 58 Ma. Nonnodulation remains common in Caesalpinioideae, with smaller numbers in Mimosoideae and Papilionoideae. The first type of infection by bacteria may have been at junctions where lateral roots emerged, followed by formation of infection threads to confine bacteria and convey them to some cells in the developing nodule, where they were generally released into symbiosomes. Infection threads were a prerequisite for root-hair infection, a process better controlled by the host, leading to a higher degree of specificity between symbionts. An alternative process, dating from the same time and persisting in about 25% of legumes, did not involve infection threads, bacteria entering a few host cells, surrounded by an undefined matrix. These cells divided repeatedly to give uniform infected tissue, with bacteria released into symbiosomes. Such legumes may have less stringent control of nodulation processes, and are found mainly in tropical and warm temperate areas. In each type of nodule, meristems may or may not be retained, leading to indeterminate or determinate forms. Nodule morphology and structure are host-determined, but the effectiveness of nitrogen fixation is largely controlled by the bacterial symbionts, which vary greatly in genotypic and phenotypic characters.

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