Comparative Phylogenomics and Phylotranscriptomics Provide Insights into the Genetic Complexity of Nitrogen Fixing Root Nodule Symbiosis

Yu Zhang, Yuan Fu, Wenfei Xian, Xiuli Li, Yong Feng, Fengjiao Bu, Yan Shi, Shiyu Chen, Robin van Velzen, Kai Battenberg, Alison M. Berry, Marco G. Salgado, Hui Liu, Tingshuang Yi, Pascale Fournier, Nicole Alloisio, Petar Pujic, Hasna Boubakri, M.E. Schranz, Pierre-Marc DelauxGane Ka-Shu Wong, Valerie Hocher, Sergio Svistoonoff, Hassen Gherbi, Ertao Wang, Wouter Kohlen, Luis G. Wall, Martin Parniske, Katharina Pawlowski, Normand Philippe, Jeffrey J. Doyle*, Shifeng Cheng*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Plant root nodule symbiosis (RNS) with mutualistic nitrogen-fixing bacteria is restricted to a single clade of angiosperms, the Nitrogen-Fixing Nodulation Clade (NFNC), and is best understood in the legume family. Nodulating species share many commonalities, explained either by divergence from a common ancestor over 100 million years ago or by convergence following independent origins over that same time period. Regardless, comparative analyses of diverse nodulation syndromes can provide insights into constraints on nodulation—what must be acquired or cannot be lost for a functional symbiosis—and what the latitude is for variation in the symbiosis. However, much remains to be learned about nodulation, especially outside of legumes. Here, we employed a large-scale phylogenomic analysis across 88 species, complemented by 151 RNA-seq libraries, to elucidate the evolution of RNS. Our phylogenomic analyses further emphasize the uniqueness of the transcription factor, NIN, as a master regulator of nodulation, and identify key mutations affecting its function across the NFNC. Comparative transcriptomic assessment reveals nodule-specific upregulated genes across diverse nodulating plants, while also identifying nodule-specific and nitrogen-response genes. Approximately 70% of symbiosis-related genes are highly conserved in the four representative species, whereas defense-related and host range restriction genes tend to be lineage-specific. Our study also identifies over 900,000 conserved non-coding elements (CNEs), of which over 300,000 are unique to sampled NFNC species. NFNC-specific CNEs are enriched with the active H3K9ac mark and are correlated with accessible chromatin regions, and thus represent a pool of candidate regulatory elements for genes involved in root nodule symbiosis. Collectively, our results provide novel insights into the evolution of nodulation and lays a foundation for engineering of RNS traits in agriculturally important crops.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100671
JournalPlant Communications
Issue number1
Early online date8 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2024


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