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Legumes house nitrogen-fixing endosymbiotic rhizobia in specialized polyploid cells within root nodules, which are factories of metabolic activity. We discovered that the circadian clock-associated transcriptional factor LATE ELONGATED HYPOCOTYL (LHY) affects nodulation in Medicago truncatula. By carrying out expression analysis of transcripts over time in nodules we found that the clock enables coordinated control of metabolic and regulatory processes linked to nitrogen fixation. Rhythmic transcripts in root nodules include a subset of Nodule-specific Cysteine Rich peptides (NCRs) that have the LHY-bound conserved Evening Element in their promoters. Until now, studies have suggested that NCRs act to regulate bacteroid differentiation and keep the rhizobial population in check. However, these conclusions came from the study of a few members of this very large gene family that has complex diversified spatio-temporal expression. We suggest that rhythmic expression of NCRs may be important for temporal coordination of bacterial activity with the rhythms of the plant host, in order to ensure optimal symbiosis.

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