Previous studies have demonstrated that cellular fatty acid analysis is a useful tool for identifying unknown strains of rhizobia and establishing taxonomic relationships between the species. In this study, the fatty acid profiles of over 600 strains belonging to the genera Agrobacterium, Bradyrhizobium, Mesorhizobium, Rhizobium and Sinorhizobium were evaluated using the gaschromatography-based Sherlock Microbial Identification System (MIS). Data collected with the MIS showed that the three phylogenetically defined biovars of the genus Agrobacterium formed discrete clusters, whilst species belonging to the genus Mesorhizobium formed three subclusters which were easily distinguished. These three subclusters contained Mesorhizobium ciceri and Mesorhizobium mediterraneum, Mesorhizobium tianshanense fatty acid group I and Mesorhizobium plurifarium, and Mesorhizobium huakuii and Mesorhizobium loti. The genus Sinorhizobium was composed of an individual position for Sinorhizobium meliloti and a large cluster comprising Sinorhizobium fredii, Sinorhizobium saheli, Sinorhizobium terangae, Sinorhizobium kostiense and Sinorhizobium arboris. S. meliloti contained significantly higher levels of the fatty acid 19:0 cyclo omega 8 cis and clustered with Rhizobium sp. (Hedysarum coronarium). However, discrimination between the species of genera Sinorhizobium and Rhizobium was a function of the concentration of 16:0 3-OH. The genus Rhizobium contained a single cluster containing Rhizobium sp. (Hedysarum coronarium), Rhizobium gallicum, Rhizobium leguminosarum and Rhizobium etli, along with individual positions for Rhizobium giardinii, Rhizobium tropici, Rhizobium galegae and Rhizobium hainanense. R. tropici and R. hainanense exhibited similarity to Agrobacterium biovar 2, whilst R. galegae was similar to Agrobacterium biovar 1. R. giardinii appeared unique, with comparatively little similarity to the other species. Analysis of the genus Bradyrhizobium revealed large differences from the other genera studied. Two subgroups of Bradyrhizobium elkanii were detected and easily distinguished from Bradyrhizobium japonicum. Bradyrhizobium liaoningense and Bradyrhizobium sp. (Arachis hypogaea), a group isolated from Chinese peanut plants, showed similarities to B. japonicum, whilst a subgroup of M. tianshanense appeared identical to Bradyrhizobium sp. (Arachis hypogaea).


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