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High genetic and phenotypic variability of Streptococcus thermophilus strains isolated from artisanal Yuruk yoghurts
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Streptococcus thermophilus is a commonly used starter bacterium in dairy industry. It reduces the pH of milk rapidly and equilibrates the medium for the growth of Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus during yoghurt fermentation. Efforts to increase the diversity of artisanal yoghurt starters are not only important to bring new strains with novel and desirable characteristics, but also for the preservation of natural diversity which diminishes with the overuse and spread of industrial starters to natural resources. In the present study, 14 artisanal yoghurt samples were processed for the isolation of promising strains for yoghurt starter culture production and 66 strains were subsequently characterized. They were all identified as S. thermophilus using species-specific PCR and 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Genotypic diversity at the strain level was investigated by pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), and 22 homology groups were obtained. Further phenotypic characterization unearthed a significant phenotypic heterogeneity within homology groups, mostly with atypical novel character. Only 7 out of 66 strains showed S. thermophilus type-strain like phenotypic traits. Majority of the isolates were determined to be protease positive and fast milk acidifier to be used as yoghurt starter culture.