External biotin greatly stimulates bacterial growth and alfalfa root colonization by Sinorhizobium meliloti strain 1021. Several genes involved in responses to plant-derived biotin have been identified in this bacterium, but no genes required for biotin transport are known, and not all loci required for biotin synthesis have been assigned. Searches of the S. meliloti genome database in combination with complementation tests of Escherichia coli biotin auxotrophs indicate that biotin synthesis probably is limited in S. meliloti 1021 by the poor functioning or complete absence of several key genes. Although several open reading frames with significant similarities to genes required for synthesis of biotin in gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria were found, only bioB, bioF, and bioH were demonstrably functional in complementation tests with known E. coli mutants. No sequence or complementation evidence was found for bioA, bioC, bioD, or bioZ. In contrast to other microorganisms, the S. meliloti bioB and bioF genes are not localized in a biotin synthesis operon, but bioB is cotranscribed with two genes coding for ABC transporter-like proteins, designated here bioM and bioN. Mutations in bioM and bioN eliminated growth on alfalfa roots and reduced bacterial capacity to maintain normal intracellular levels of biotin. Taken together, these data suggest that S. meliloti normally grows on exogenous biotin using bioM and bioN to conserve biotin assimilated from external sources
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