We evaluated response differences of normal and transformed (so-called 'hairy') roots of soybean (Glycine max L. (Merr.), cv L17) to the Nod-factor inducing isoflavone genistein and salinity by quantifying growth, nodulation, nitrogen fixation and biochemical changes. Composite soybean plants were generated using Agrobacterium rhizogenes-mediated transformation of non-nodulating mutant nod139 (GmNFR5α minus) with complementing A. rhizogenes K599 carrying the wild-type GmNFR5α gene under control of the constitutive CaMV 35S promoter. We used genetic complementation for nodulation ability as only nodulated roots were scored. After hairy root emergence, primary roots were removed and composite plants were inoculated with Bradyrhizobium japonicum (strain CB1809) pre-induced with 10 μM genistein and watered with NaCl (0, 25, 50 and 100 mM). There were significant differences between hairy roots and natural roots in their responses to salt stress and genistein application. In addition, there were noticeable nodulation and nitrogen fixation differences. Composite plants had better growth, more root volume and chlorophyll as well as more nodules and higher nitrogenase activity (acetylene reduction) compared with natural roots. Decreased lipid peroxidation, proline accumulation and catalase/peroxidase activities were found in 'hairy' roots under salinity stress. Genistein significantly increased nodulation and nitrogen fixation and improved roots and shoot growth. Although genistein alleviated lipid peroxidation under salinity stress, it had no significant effect on the activity of antioxidant enzymes. In general, composite plants were more competitive in growth, nodulation and nitrogen fixation than normal non-transgenic even under salinity stress conditions.