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Biol Fertil Soils. 2018;54(3):309-318. doi: 10.1007/s00374-018-1262-0. Epub 2018 Feb 12.

Nature and mechanisms of aluminium toxicity, tolerance and amelioration in symbiotic legumes and rhizobia.

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1Department of Chemistry, Tshwane University of Technology, Arcadia campus, 175 Nelson Mandela Drive, Private Bag X680, Pretoria, 0001 South Africa.
2Department of Crop Sciences, Tshwane University of Technology, Arcadia campus, 175 Nelson Mandela Drive, Private Bag X680, Pretoria, 0001 South Africa.


Recent findings on the effect of aluminium (Al) on the functioning of legumes and their associated microsymbionts are reviewed here. Al represents 7% of solid matter in the Earth's crust and is an important abiotic factor that alters microbial and plant functioning at very early stages. The trivalent Al (Al3+) dominates at pH <‚ÄČ5 in soils and becomes a constraint to legume productivity through its lethal effect on rhizobia, the host plant and their interaction. Al3+ has lethal effects on many aspects of the rhizobia/legume symbiosis, which include a decrease in root elongation and root hair formation, lowered soil rhizobial population, and suppression of nitrogen metabolism involving nitrate reduction, nitrite reduction, nitrogenase activity and the functioning of uptake of hydrogenases (Hup), ultimately impairing the N2 fixation process. At the molecular level, Al is known to suppress the expression of nodulation genes in symbiotic rhizobia, as well as the induction of genes for the formation of hexokinase, phosphodiesterase, phosphooxidase and acid/alkaline phosphatase. Al toxicity can also induce the accumulation of reactive oxygen species and callose, in addition to lipoperoxidation in the legume root elongation zone. Al tolerance in plants can be achieved through over-expression of citrate synthase gene in roots and/or the synthesis and release of organic acids that reverse Al-induced changes in proteins, as well as metabolic regulation by plant-secreted microRNAs. In contrast, Al tolerance in symbiotic rhizobia is attained via the production of exopolysaccharides, the synthesis of siderophores that reduce Al uptake, induction of efflux pumps resistant to heavy metals and the expression of metal-inducible (dmeRF) gene clusters in symbiotic Rhizobiaceae. In soils, Al toxicity is usually ameliorated through liming, organic matter supply and use of Al-tolerant species. Our current understanding of crop productivity in high Al soils suggests that a much greater future accumulation of Al is likely to occur in agricultural soils globally if crop irrigation is increased under a changing climate.


Abiotic stress; Acid soils; Efflux pumps; Nitrogen fixation; Rhizosphere exudation; miRNA

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