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Charis-Konstantina Kontopoulou, Sofia Giagkou, Efthalia Stathi, Dimitrios Savvas, and Pietro P.M. Iannetta

To date, few attempts have been made to assess the impact of Rhizobium inoculation on N2 fixation and plant yield in soilless cultivations of common bean. In the present study, common bean (P. vulgaris L.) grown on an inert medium (pumice) was inoculated with either Rhizobium tropici CIAT899 or a commercial product containing a mix of N2-fixing bacteria, specifically rhizobia, and Azotobacter sp. The plants treated with both inoculants were supplied with nitrogen (N)-free (0% N) nutrient solution (NS) throughout the cropping period. A third treatment with non-inoculated plants, which were supplied with a standard (100% N) NS was applied as a control. Inoculation with R. tropici significantly increased the total number of root nodules (80 nodules per plant on average) in comparison with the other two treatments (nine nodules per plant on average). The supply of N-free NS restricted markedly both total plant biomass and pod yield, whereas the inoculation with R. tropici mitigated this effect. The aboveground tissues of plants fed with N-free NS contained appreciably less N than those fed with standard solution when they were inoculated with the commercial inoculant (1.7 vs. 29 mg·g−1 dry weight, respectively). The shoot total N concentration 45, 65, and 90 days after transplanting (32, 31, and 29 mg·g−1 dry weight, respectively) was not reduced by the supply of N-free NS when the plants were inoculated with R. tropici. This finding indicates that, at least from the first sampling date onward, the tissue N level was not a limiting factor for growth and yield in plants inoculated with R. tropici. The supply of N-free NS restricted appreciably the potassium (K), magnesium (Mg), and zinc (Zn) levels in the aboveground plant biomass, regardless of inoculation treatment. The impaired growth and yield in plants fed with N-free NS and inoculated with R. tropici is ascribed to both a N shortage at early growth stages and a reduced K+ uptake aimed at electrochemically balancing the anion-to-cation uptake ratio under conditions of no external NO3 supply.