Streptococcus thermophilus strains are among the most widely employed starter cultures in dairy fermentations, second only to those of Lactococcus lactis. The extensive application of this species provides considerable opportunity for the proliferation of its infecting (bacterio)phages. Until recently, dairy streptococcal phages were classified into two groups (cos and pac groups), while more recently, two additional groups have been identified (5093 and 987 groups). This highlights the requirement for consistent monitoring of phage populations in the industry. Here, we report a survey of 35 samples of whey derived from 27 dairy fermentation facilities in ten countries against a panel of S. thermophilus strains. This culminated in the identification of 172 plaque isolates, which were characterized by multiplex PCR, restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis, and host range profiling. Based on this characterisation, 39 distinct isolates representing all four phage groups were selected for genome sequencing. Genetic diversity was observed among the cos isolates and correlations between receptor binding protein phylogeny and host range were also clear within this phage group. The 987 phages isolated within this study shared high levels of sequence similarity, yet displayed reduced levels of similarity to those identified in previous studies, indicating that they are subject to ongoing genetic diversification.
Keywords: dairy fermentation; ecology; genomics; phage typing.