Melanin production by Rhizobium meliloti GR4 is linked to nonsymbiotic plasmid pRmeGR4b (140 MDa). Transfer of this plasmid to GR4-cured derivatives or to Agrobacterium tumefaciens enables these bacteria to produce melanin. Sequence analysis of a 3.5-kb PstI fragment of plasmid pRmeGR4b has revealed the presence of a open reading frame 1,481-bp that codes for a protein whose sequence shows strong homology to two conserved regions involved in copper binding in tyrosinases and hemocyanins. In vitro-coupled transcription-translation experiments showed that this open reading frame codes for a 55-kDa polypeptide. Melanin production in GR4 is not under the control of the RpoN-NifA regulatory system, unlike that in R. leguminosarum bv. phaseoli 8002. The GR4 tyrosinase gene could be expressed in Escherichia coli under the control of the lacZ promoter. For avoiding confusion with mel genes (for melibiose), a change of the name of the previously reported mel genes of R. leguminosarum bv. phaseoli and other organisms to mep genes (for melanin production) is proposed
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