This study reports on the identification and characterization of bacteriophages isolated from cheese-production facilities that use undefined, mixed starter cultures. Phage screening was carried out on whey samples isolated from 3 factories, 2 utilizing one particular undefined starter mixture and 1 utilizing another undefined starter mixture. Phage screening was carried out using 40 strains isolated from the 2 mixed starter cultures, and phages were profiled using host range, electron microscopy, multiplex PCR, and DNA restriction analysis. Twenty distinct lactococcal phages were identified based on host range and DNA restriction profiles, all belonging to the 936-type phage species. Nineteen of these phages were found to be able to infect both recognized subspecies of Lactococcus lactis. Restriction of phage DNA isolated using a newly developed guanidinium thiocyanate disruption method showed that the genomes of the 20 isolated phages were between 26 and 31kb in size. It is evident from this study that the use of mixed starters creates an ideal environment for the proliferation of different phages with slightly varying host ranges. Furthermore, in this environment, members of the 936-type phage species clearly dominated the phage population.
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