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The art of isolating nitrogen-fixing bacteria from non-leguminous plants using N-free semi-solid media: a practical guide for microbiologists

Baldani, José Ivo, Reis, Veronica Massena, Videira, Sandy Sampaio, Boddey, Lúcia Helena, Baldani, Vera Lúcia Divan
Plant and soil 2014 v.384 no.1-2 pp. 413-431
Saccharum, Triticum aestivum, Zea mays, corn, culture media, endophytes, nitrogen fixation, nitrogen-fixing bacteria, physiology, plant tissues, rhizosphere, soil, sugarcane, wheat, Brazil
BACKGROUND AND AIM: Nitrogen-fixing bacteria or diazotrophs have been isolated for many years using different formulations of N-free semi-solid media. However, the strategies used to isolate them, and the recipes of these media, are scattered through the published literature and in other sources that are more difficult to access and which are not always retrievable. Therefore, the aim of this work was to collate the various methods and recipes, and to provide a comprehensive methodological guide and their use by the scientific community working in the field of biological nitrogen fixation (BNF), particularly with non-leguminous plants. METHODS: Procedures used for bacterial counting and identification either from rhizosphere soil or on the surface of, or within, plant tissues (to access “endophytic” bacteria) are presented in detail, including colony and cell morphologies. More importantly, appropriate recipes available for each N-free semi-solid culture medium that are used to count and isolate various diazotrophs are presented. RESULTS: It is recognized by those working in the field of BNF with non-legumes that the development of the N-free semi-solid medium has allowed a tremendous accumulation of knowledge on the ecology and physiology of their associated diazotrophs. At least 20 nitrogen-fixing species have been isolated and identified based on the enrichment method originally developed by Döbereiner, Day and collaborators in the 70’s. In spite of all the advances in molecular techniques used to detect bacteria, in most cases the initial isolation and identification of these diazotrophs still requires semi-solid media. CONCLUSIONS: The introduction of the N-free semi-solid medium opened new opportunities for those working in the area of BNF with non-legumes not only for elucidating the important role played by their associated microorganisms, but also because some of these bacteria that were isolated using semi-solid media are now being recommended as plant growth-promoting inoculants for sugarcane (Saccharum sp.), maize (Zea mays) and wheat (Triticum aestivum) in Brazil and other countries. Further progress in the field could be made by using a combination of culture-independent molecular community analyses, in situ activity assessments with probe-directed enrichment, and isolation of target strains using modified or standard semi-solid media.