We examined the contribution of a cryptic plasmid, pRmeGR4b, to the nodulation of Medicago sativa by strain GR4 of Rhizobium meliloti. A 905-base-pair PstI DNA fragment in pRmeGR4b was found to hybridize DNA of the R. meliloti fixA promoter region as a probe. Sequence analysis of the PstI fragment showed a 206-base-pair region displaying high homology with the DNA upstream of the RNA start points of the P1 and P2 symbiotic promoters. Putative nif promoter consensus sequences were conserved in this DNA segment. Expression of DNA downstream of the nif promoterlike sequence, monitored by beta-galactosidase activity of different lacZ fusions, was demonstrated to depend on a functional nifA gene, both in microaerobically free-living cells and in nodules. Individual transposon Tn3-HoHo1 insertions in this DNA region caused a reduced nodulation competitiveness. This new symbiotic region, occupying approximately 5 kilobases of pRmeGR4b DNA, was called nfe (nodule formation efficiency)
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