Lactococcus lactis DPC4275 is a bacteriocin-producing transconjugant of the industrial starter strain DPC4268. Strain DPC4275 was generated through conjugal transfer by mating DPC4268 with L. lactis MG1363 containing the 60-kb plasmid pMRC01, which encodes the genetic determinants for the lantibiotic lacticin 3147 and for a phage resistance mechanism of the abortive infection type. The many significant applications of this strain prompted a genetic analysis of its apparently unstable bacteriocin-producing phenotype. Increased levels of lacticin 3147 produced by DPC4275 were associated with the appearance of an 80-kb plasmid, designated pMRC02, which was derived from DNA originating from pMRC01 (60 kb) and a resident DPC4268 proteinase plasmid, pMT60 (60 kb). Indeed, pMRC02 was shown to be derived from the insertion of a 17-kb fragment of pMRC01, encompassing the lacticin 3147 operon, into pMT60. The presence of pMRC02 at a high copy number was found to correlate with increased levels of lacticin 3147 in DPC4275 compared to the wild-type containing pMRC01. Subsequent transfer of pMRC02 into the plasmid-free strain MG1363 by electroporation allowed a direct phenotypic comparison with pMRC01, also studied in the MG1363 background. Plasmid pMRC02 displayed phage resistance similar to that by pMRC01, although it was less potent, as demonstrated by a larger plaque size for phage c2 infection of MG1363(pMRC02). While this locus is flanked by IS946 elements, the sequencing of pMT60-pMRC01 junction sites established that this event was unlikely to be insertion sequence mediated and most probably occurred by homologous recombination followed by deletion of most of pMRC01. This was not a random occurrence, as nine other transconjugants investigated were found to have the same junction sites. Such derivatives of commercial strains producing increased levels of bacteriocin could be exploited as protection cultures for food applications.
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