Genomic Characterization of Dairy Associated Leuconostoc Species and Diversity of Leuconostocs in Undefined Mixed Mesophilic Starter Cultures

Cyril A. Frantzen, Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Witold Kot, Aarhus University,
Thomas B. Pedersen, University of Copenhagen
Ylva M. Ardö, University of Copenhagen
Jeff R. Broadbent, Utah State University
Horst Neve, Max Rubner-Institut
Lars H. Hansen, Aarhus University
Fabio Dal Bello, Sacco Srl, Cordorago, Italy
Hilde M. Østlie, Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Hans P. Kleppen, Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Finn K. Vogensen, University of Copenhagen
Helge Holo, Norwegian University of Life Sciences


Undefined mesophilic mixed (DL-type) starter cultures are composed of predominantly Lactococcus lactis subspecies and 1–10% Leuconostoc spp. The composition of the Leuconostoc population in the starter culture ultimately affects the characteristics and the quality of the final product. The scientific basis for the taxonomy of dairy relevant leuconostocs can be traced back 50 years, and no documentation on the genomic diversity of leuconostocs in starter cultures exists. We present data on the Leuconostoc population in five DL-type starter cultures commonly used by the dairy industry. The analyses were performed using traditional cultivation methods, and further augmented by next-generation DNA sequencing methods. Bacterial counts for starter cultures cultivated on two different media, MRS and MPCA, revealed large differences in the relative abundance of leuconostocs. Most of the leuconostocs in two of the starter cultures were unable to grow on MRS, emphasizing the limitations of culture-based methods and the importance of careful media selection or use of culture independent methods. Pan-genomic analysis of 59 Leuconostoc genomes enabled differentiation into twelve robust lineages. The genomic analyses show that the dairy-associated leuconostocs are highly adapted to their environment, characterized by the acquisition of genotype traits, such as the ability to metabolize citrate. In particular, Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris display telltale signs of a degenerative evolution, likely resulting from a long period of growth in milk in association with lactococci. Great differences in the metabolic potential between Leuconostoc species and subspecies were revealed. Using targeted amplicon sequencing, the composition of the Leuconostoc population in the five commercial starter cultures was shown to be significantly different. Three of the cultures were dominated by Ln. mesenteroides subspecies cremoris. Leuconostoc pseudomesenteroides dominated in two of the cultures while Leuconostoc lactis, reported to be a major constituent in fermented dairy products, was only present in low amounts in one of the cultures. This is the first in-depth study of Leuconostoc genomics and diversity in dairy starter cultures. The results and the techniques presented may be of great value for the dairy industry.