Control of nitrogen fixation and ammonia excretion in Azorhizobium caulinodans.

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Due to the costly energy demands of nitrogen (N) fixation, diazotrophic bacteria have evolved complex regulatory networks that permit expression of the catalyst nitrogenase only under conditions of N starvation, whereas the same condition stimulates upregulation of high-affinity ammonia (NH3) assimilation by glutamine synthetase (GS), preventing excess release of excess NH3 for plants. Diazotrophic bacteria can be engineered to excrete NH3 by interference with GS, however control is required to minimise growth penalties and prevent unintended provision of NH3 to non-target plants. Here, we tested two strategies to control GS regulation and NH3 excretion in our model cereal symbiont Azorhizobium caulinodans AcLP, a derivative of ORS571. We first attempted to recapitulate previous work where mutation of both PII homologues glnB and glnK stimulated GS shutdown but found that one of these genes was essential for growth. Secondly, we expressed unidirectional adenylyltransferases (uATs) in a ?glnE mutant of AcLP which permitted strong GS shutdown and excretion of NH3 derived from N2 fixation and completely alleviated negative feedback regulation on nitrogenase expression. We placed a uAT allele under control of the NifA-dependent promoter PnifH, permitting GS shutdown and NH3 excretion specifically under microaerobic conditions, the same cue that initiates N2 fixation, then deleted nifA and transferred a rhizopine nifAL94Q/D95Q-rpoN controller plasmid into this strain, permitting coupled rhizopine-dependent activation of N2 fixation and NH3 excretion. This highly sophisticated and multi-layered control circuitry brings us a step closer to the development of a “synthetic symbioses” where N2 fixation and NH3 excretion could be specifically activated in diazotrophic bacteria colonising transgenic rhizopine producing cereals, targeting delivery of fixed N to the crop while preventing interaction with non-target plants.