Methyl-accepting chemotaxis proteins (MCPs) play important roles in the chemotactic response of many bacteria. Oligonucleotide primers designed to amplify the conserved signalling domain of MCPs by PCR were used to identify potential MCP-encoding genes in Rhizobium leguminosarum. Using a PCR-derived probe created from these primers a genomic library of R. leguminosarum VF39SM was screened; at least five putative MCP-encoding genes (termed mcpB to mcpF) were identified and isolated from the library. One of these putative genes (mcpC) is located on one of the indigenous plasmids of VF39SM. Fifteen different cosmids showing homology to an mcpD probe were also isolated from a genomic library. The complete DNA sequences of mcpB, mcpC and mcpD were obtained. All three genes code for proteins with characteristics typical of MCPs. However, the protein encoded by mcpB has a relatively large periplasmic domain compared to that in other MCPs. Partial DNA sequences of mcpE and mcpF had strong similarity to sequences from the methylation domains of known MCPs. Mutants defective in mcpB, mcpC, mcpD or mcpE were created using insertional mutagenesis strategies. Mutation of mcpB resulted in impairment of chemotaxis to a wide range of carbon sources on swarm plates; phenotypes for the other three mutants have yet to be elucidated. The mcpB, mcpC and mcpD mutants were tested for loss of nodulation competitiveness. When co-inoculated with the wild-type, the mcpB and mcpC mutants formed fewer nodules than the wild-type, whereas the mcpD mutant was just as competitive as the wild-type. The results overall suggest that R. leguminosarum possesses mcp-like genes, and that at least some of these play a role in early steps in the plant-microbe interaction.


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