Monday, July 16, 2012

Matt Gets Published! II

Over a year ago I was part of a paper that was published [1] about a genetic tool developed in my lab that can delete a bacterial gene at the time of my choosing. That paper didn't count towards the two publications I need for my Ph.D. because I wasn't the first author (i.e. I wasn't the one who did most of the work). Well, about a year ago I had enough data to publish an article as the first author. But the editors of the first journal we submitted it to didn't feel like it was important enough to appear their publication, so we had to resubmit to another journal. This time the editors thought it was worth their while, so they accepted it after requesting a few more experiments. It appeared in the most recent issue of Molecular Plant–Microbe Interactions.[2] In fact, they liked the article so much that they asked us to submit some images for the cover of the issue.[3]

I've mentioned previously [4] that I'm studying the bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti [5] and how it interacts with its host plant, in the genus Medicago (which includes alfalfa). One of the things that I observed was that there were some strains of Sinorhizobium meliloti that were incompatible with a particular host, e.g. Medicago truncatula, but that rarely they would mutate and become compatible. Upon investigation we discovered that this mutation was the loss of a plasmid. A plasmid is a circular piece of DNA that isn't necessary to the bacterium. In fact, it's often parasitic. And in our case, it was preventing full symbiosis with the plant host. We also determined that this plasmid, despite disrupting the symbiosis, also made the bacterium more competitive at initiating the symbiosis. We've sequenced one such plasmid (we've found four different ones, so far) and are in the process of determining which gene(s) is/are responsible for disrupting symbiosis.


[1] See my post Matt Gets Published! I.

[2] You can see the abstract here (to read the full paper you have to have a subscription to Molecular Plant–Microbe Interactions or pay a one-time $27 fee to download the article).

[3] You can see it, along with a blurb about the article, here.

[4] See my post What Is It That Matt Does, Anyway?

[5] You can see photographs of Sinorhizobium meliloti as well as other species of rhizobia growing in Petri dishes at my post The End of Procrastination III.

Image attributions:

Medicago truncatula is by Ninjatacoshell, available at truncatula A17 plant.JPG.


  1. Congratulations Matt. The paper is very nice. Sorry to hear about your frustrations publishing. Often just works out that way. I picked up your paper and posted it on my Rhizobium Research ( page when it came out. I look forward to hearing the rest of the story.

    Ivan Oresnik

  2. We first submitted the manuscript to PLoS Biology. The reviewers were very positive about the science, but one of them (and the editors agreed) felt that it didn't live up to the scope and impact of the journal since we haven't yet identified the exact molecular mechanism. I'm actually inclined to agree, so I'm in no way disappointed by their decision to forgo publishing the manuscript. But it did mean a delay in making the manuscript available to the scientific community. Oh, and many thanks for your instructions regarding Eckhardt gels. We often get praise for how well they turn out, including from the reviewers.