The Impacts of Domestication and Breeding on Nitrogen Fixation Symbiosis in Legumes

Jinge Liu, Xiaocheng Yu, Qiulin Qin, Randy D. Dinkins, Hongyan Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Legumes are the second most important family of crop plants. One defining feature of legumes is their unique ability to establish a nitrogen-fixing root nodule symbiosis with soil bacteria known as rhizobia. Since domestication from their wild relatives, crop legumes have been under intensive breeding to improve yield and other agronomic traits but with little attention paid to the belowground symbiosis traits. Theoretical models predict that domestication and breeding processes, coupled with high−input agricultural practices, might have reduced the capacity of crop legumes to achieve their full potential of nitrogen fixation symbiosis. Testing this prediction requires characterizing symbiosis traits in wild and breeding populations under both natural and cultivated environments using genetic, genomic, and ecological approaches. However, very few experimental studies have been dedicated to this area of research. Here, we review how legumes regulate their interactions with soil rhizobia and how domestication, breeding and agricultural practices might have affected nodulation capacity, nitrogen fixation efficiency, and the composition and function of rhizobial community. We also provide a perspective on how to improve legume-rhizobial symbiosis in sustainable agricultural systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number00973
JournalFrontiers in Genetics
StatePublished - Aug 18 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding. This work was supported by the United States Department of Agriculture/National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Grant 2014-67013-21573, by United States National Science Foundation Grant 1758037, and by a USDA-University of Kentucky special cooperative grant.

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2020 Liu, Yu, Qin, Dinkins and Zhu.


  • domestication
  • legume
  • nitrogen fixation
  • nodulation
  • rhizobia
  • symbiosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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