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FEMS Microbiol Rev. 1994 Oct;15(2-3):217-37.

Genetics of lactose utilization in lactic acid bacteria.

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Department of Biophysical Chemistry, NIZO, Ede, The Netherlands.

Erratum in

  • FEMS Microbiol Rev 1995 Jan;16(1):77.


Lactose utilization is the primary function of lactic acid bacteria used in industrial dairy fermentations. The mechanism by which lactose is transported determines largely the pathway for the hydrolysis of the internalized disaccharide and the fate of the glucose and galactose moieties. Biochemical and genetic studies have indicated that lactose can be transported via phosphotransferase systems, transport systems dependent on ATP binding cassette proteins, or secondary transport systems including proton symport and lactose-galactose antiport systems. The genetic determinants for the group translocation and secondary transport systems have been identified in lactic acid bacteria and are reviewed here. In many cases the lactose genes are organized into operons or operon-like structures with a modular organization, in which the genes encoding lactose transport are tightly linked to those for lactose hydrolysis. In addition, in some cases the genes involved in the galactose metabolism are linked to or co-transcribed with the lactose genes, suggesting a common evolutionary pathway. The lactose genes show characteristic configurations and very high sequence identity in some phylogenetically distant lactic acid bacteria such as Leuconostoc and Lactobacillus or Lactococcus and Lactobacillus. The significance of these results for the adaptation of lactic acid bacteria to the industrial milk environment in which lactose is the sole energy source is discussed.

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