Comparative genome analysis of Lactococcus lactis indicates niche adaptation and resolves genotype/phenotype disparity

Michiel Wels, Roland Siezen, Sacha Van Hijum, William J. Kelly, Herwig Bachmann*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Lactococcus lactis is one of the most important micro-organisms in the dairy industry for the fermentation of cheese and buttermilk. Besides the conversion of lactose to lactate it is responsible for product properties such as flavor and texture, which are determined by volatile metabolites, proteolytic activity and exopolysaccharide production. While the species Lactococcus lactis consists of the two subspecies lactis and cremoris their taxonomic position is confused by a group of strains that, despite of a cremoris genotype, display a lactis phenotype. Here we compared and analyzed the (draft) genomes of 43 L. lactis strains, of which 19 are of dairy and 24 are of non-dairy origin. Machine-learning algorithms facilitated the identification of orthologous groups of protein sequences (OGs) that are predictors for either the taxonomic position or the source of isolation. This allowed the unambiguous categorization of the genotype/phenotype disparity of ssp. lactis and ssp. cremoris strains. A detailed analysis of phenotypic properties including plasmid-encoded genes indicates evolutionary changes during niche adaptations. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that dairy isolates evolved from plant isolates. The analysis further suggests that genomes of cremoris phenotype strains are so eroded that they are restricted to a dairy environment. Overall the genome comparison of a diverse set of strains allowed the identification of niche and subspecies specific genes. This explains evolutionary relationships and will aid the identification and selection of industrial starter cultures.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue numberJanuary
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2019


  • Comparative genomics
  • Dairy fermentation
  • Gene-trait matching
  • Lactococcus lactis
  • Niche adaptation

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