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Auxin: At The Root Of Nodule Development?

Ulrike Mathesius

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Root nodules are formed as a result of an orchestrated exchange of chemical signals between symbiotic nitrogen fixing bacteria and certain plants. In plants that form nodules in symbiosis with actinorhizal bacteria, nodules are derived from lateral roots. In most legumes, nodules are formed de novo from pericycle and cortical cells that are re-stimulated for division and differentiation by rhizobia. The ability of plants to nodulate has only evolved recently and it has, therefore, been suggested that nodule development is likely to have co-opted existing mechanisms for development and differentiation from lateral root formation. Auxin is an important regulator of cell division and differentiation, and changes in auxin accumulation and transport are essential for lateral root development. There is growing evidence that rhizobia alter the root auxin balance as a prerequisite for nodule formation, and that nodule numbers are regulated by shoot-to-root auxin transport. Whereas auxin requirements appear to be similar for lateral root and nodule primordium activation and organ differentiation, the major difference between the two developmental programs lies in the specification of founder cells. It is suggested that differing ratios of auxin and cytokinin are likely to specify the precursors of the different root organs.