A set of 83 lytic dairy bacteriophages (phages) infecting flavor-producing mesophilic starter strains of the Leuconostoc genus was characterized, and the first in-depth taxonomic scheme was established for this phage group. Phages were obtained from different sources, i.e., from dairy samples originating from 11 German dairies (50 Leuconostoc pseudomesenteroides [Ln. pseudomesenteroides] phages, 4 Ln. mesenteroides phages) and from 3 external phage collections (17 Ln. pseudomesenteroides phages, 12 Ln. mesenteroides phages). All phages belonged to the Siphoviridae family of phages with isometric heads (diameter, 55 nm) and noncontractile tails (length, 140 nm). With the exception of one phage (i.e., phage ΦLN25), all Ln. mesenteroides phages lysed the same host strains and revealed characteristic globular baseplate appendages. Phage ΦLN25, with different Y-shaped appendages, had a unique host range. Apart from two phages (i.e., phages P792 and P793), all Ln. pseudomesenteroides phages shared the same host range and had plain baseplates without distinguishable appendages. They were further characterized by the presence or absence of a collar below the phage head or by unique tails with straight striations. Phages P792 and P793 with characteristic fluffy baseplate appendages could propagate only on other specific hosts. All Ln. mesenteroides and all Ln. pseudomesenteroides phages were members of two (host species-specific) distinct genotypes but shared a limited conserved DNA region specifying their structural genes. A PCR detection system was established and was shown to be reliable for the detection of all Leuconostoc phage types.
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