Phage-host interactions remain poorly understood in lactic acid bacteria and essentially in all Gram-positive bacteria. The aim of this study was to identify the phage genetic determinant (anti-receptor) involved in the recognition of Streptococcus thermophilus hosts. The complete genomic sequence of the lytic S. thermophilus phage DT1 was determined previously, and bioinformatic analysis indicated that orf18 might be the anti-receptor gene. The orf18 of six additional S. thermophilus phages was determined (DT2, DT4, MD1, MD2, MD4 and Q5) and compared with the orf18 of DT1. The deduced ORF18 was divided into three domains. The first domain, which contains the N-terminal part of the protein, was conserved in all seven phages. The second domain was detected in only two phages and flanked by a motif called collagen-like repeats. The second domain also contained a variable region (VR1). All seven phages had a third domain that consisted of the C-terminal section of the protein as well as another variable region (VR2). Chimeric DT1 phages were constructed by recombination; a portion of its orf18 was replaced by the corresponding section in orf18 of the phage MD4. All DT1 chimeric phages acquired the host range of phage MD4. Analysis of the orf18 in the chimeric phages revealed that host specificity in phages DT1 and MD4 resulted from VR2. This is the first report on the identification and characterization of a phage gene involved in the host recognition process of Gram-positive bacteria.