U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


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Published in Soil Biology & Biochemistry 35 (2003) 667–675.


The symbiotic nitrogen-fixing soil bacterium, Sinorhizobium meliloti, is well known for its ability to interact with the leguminous plant Medicago sativa L. It has, however, not been reported that this species possesses the capability to degrade toxic nitroaromatic compounds, such as 2,4-dinitrotoluene (DNT) which is commonly associated with the degradation of the explosive trinitrotoluene (TNT). In this study, the pJS1 DNT-biodegradative plasmid was genetically transferred to S. meliloti strain USDA 1936, which was confirmed by plasmid profile analysis. Several standard analytical and chemical tests including high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), nitrite (NO2) release assays, rhizosphere population and plant greenhouse studies were conducted to test the ability of S. meliloti to degrade 2,4-DNT. The possible presence of 2,4-DNT remaining in the treated soil was tested, and no 2,4-DNT had been absorbed by the soil. The pJS1-carrying recombinant strain DHK1 produced ‘ARC’ alfalfa plants that were almost 2-fold higher in shoot dry weight than that produced by the parent strain on soil containing 0.14 mM 2,4-DNT. The transconjugant strain DHK1 reduced significantly one-third more 2,4-DNT in both 0.14 and 0.28 mM contaminated soil, and in 0.55 mM contaminated soil it degraded 94% of the 2,4-DNT present. In liquid cultures, however, only about 4% reduction in 2,4-DNT concentrations was obtained in 10 days. We interpret the results as clearly establishing that genetic modification was successfully used, for the first time, to improve the capability of the symbiotic nitrogen-fixing soil bacterium S. meliloti DHK1 to bioremediate in situ 2,4-DNT-contaminated soil in the presence of alfalfa plants.