Bacteria that changed the world: Rhizobium leguminosarum

In our Bacterial World exhibition we offer a selection of ten bacteria that have changed the world, some in profound ways. In this series of short fact-file posts we present one of the ten each week. This week’s bacteria are…

Rhizobium leguminosarum
– the Crop-Boosters

Where they live
Rhizobia leguminosarum have a special relationship with plants, living inside little nodules on their roots and receiving shelter and food from them.

Why they are important
In return for its comfortable life, the bacteria bring about hugely increased crop yields. They enable the plant to use nitrogen from the air as a fertiliser, a process called nitrogen fixing.

How they are named
The family of bacteria called Rhizobia got its name in 1889 – it means ‘root living’. Leguminosarum indicates that the species lives in leguminous plants such as peas, beans and lentils.

How they work
The two-way relationship between plants and rhizobia is called mutual symbiosis. Scientists boost crop yields even further by selecting the best strains of bacteria to pair up with plants in specific environments.

Top image: Electron micrograph of root nodules with Rhizobium leguminosarum bacteria grown by The Rhizosphere Group (University of Oxford)
Copyright: Kim Findlay (John Innes Centre)

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