Rhizobial bacteria form symbiotic, nitrogen-fixing nodules on the roots of compatible host legume plants. One of the most well-developed model systems for studying these interactions is the plant Medicago truncatula cv. Jemalong A17 and the rhizobial bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti 1021. Repeated imaging of plant roots and scoring of symbiotic phenotypes requires methods that are non-destructive to either plants or bacteria. The symbiotic phenotypes of some plant and bacterial mutants become apparent after relatively short periods of growth, and do not require long-term observation of the host/symbiont interaction. However, subtle differences in symbiotic efficiency and nodule senescence phenotypes that are not apparent in the early stages of the nodulation process require relatively long growth periods before they can be scored. Several methods have been developed for long-term growth and observation of this host/symbiont pair. However, many of these methods require repeated watering, which increases the possibility of contamination by other microbes. Other methods require a relatively large space for growth of large numbers of plants. The method described here, symbiotic growth of M. truncatula/S. meliloti in sterile, single-plant microcosms, has several advantages. Plants in these microcosms have sufficient moisture and nutrients to ensure that watering is not required for up to 9 weeks, preventing cross-contamination during watering. This allows phenotypes to be quantified that might be missed in short-term growth systems, such as subtle delays in nodule development and early nodule senescence. Also, the roots and nodules in the microcosm are easily viewed through the plate lid, so up-rooting of the plants for observation is not required.
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