Novel Genus of Phages Infecting Streptococcus thermophilus: Genomic and Morphological Characterization

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2020 Jun 17;86(13):e00227-20. doi: 10.1128/AEM.00227-20. Print 2020 Jun 17.


Streptococcus thermophilus is a lactic acid bacterium commonly used for the manufacture of yogurt and specialty cheeses. Virulent phages represent a major risk for milk fermentation processes worldwide, as they can inactivate the added starter bacterial cells, leading to low-quality fermented dairy products. To date, four genetically distinct groups of phages infecting S. thermophilus have been described. Here, we describe a fifth group. Phages P738 and D4446 are virulent siphophages that infect a few industrial strains of S. thermophilus The genomes of phages P738 and D4446 were sequenced and found to contain 34,037 and 33,656 bp as well as 48 and 46 open reading frames, respectively. Comparative genomic analyses revealed that the two phages are closely related to each other but display very limited similarities to other S. thermophilus phages. In fact, these two novel S. thermophilus phages share similarities with streptococcal phages of nondairy origin, suggesting that they emerged recently in the dairy environment.IMPORTANCE Despite decades of research and adapted antiphage strategies such as CRISPR-Cas systems, virulent phages are still a persistent risk for the milk fermentation industry worldwide, as they can cause manufacturing failures and alter product quality. Phages P738 and D4446 are novel virulent phages that infect the food-grade Gram-positive bacterial species Streptococcus thermophilus These two related viruses represent a fifth group of S. thermophilus phages, as they are significantly distinct from other known S. thermophilus phages. Both phages share similarities with phages infecting nondairy streptococci, suggesting their recent emergence and probable coexistence in dairy environments. These findings highlight the necessity of phage surveillance programs as the phage population evolves in response to the application of antiphage strategies.

Keywords: CRISPR; CRISPR-Cas; Streptococcus thermophilus; bacteriophage morphogenesis; bacteriophages; electron microscopy; evolution; genomic analysis; lactic acid bacteria; tail protein.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Siphoviridae / classification*
  • Siphoviridae / genetics
  • Siphoviridae / ultrastructure
  • Streptococcus Phages / classification*
  • Streptococcus Phages / genetics
  • Streptococcus Phages / ultrastructure
  • Streptococcus thermophilus / virology*