Plants form symbiotic associations with endophytic bacteria within tissues of leaves, stems, and roots. It is unclear whether or how plants obtain nitrogen from these endophytic bacteria. Here we present evidence showing nitrogen flow from endophytic bacteria to plants in a process that appears to involve oxidative degradation of bacteria. In our experiments we employed Agave tequilana and its seed-transmitted endophyte Bacillus tequilensis to elucidate organic nitrogen transfer from (15)N-labeled bacteria to plants. Bacillus tequilensis cells grown in a minimal medium with (15)NH4Cl as the nitrogen source were watered onto plants growing in sand. We traced incorporation of (15)N into tryptophan, deoxynucleosides and pheophytin derived from chlorophyll a. Probes for hydrogen peroxide show its presence during degradation of bacteria in plant tissues, supporting involvement of reactive oxygen in the degradation process. In another experiment to assess nitrogen absorbed as a result of endophytic colonization of plants we demonstrated that endophytic bacteria potentially transfer more nitrogen to plants and stimulate greater biomass in plants than heat-killed bacteria that do not colonize plants but instead degrade in the soil. Findings presented here support the hypothesis that some plants under nutrient limitation may degrade and obtain nitrogen from endophytic microbes.
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