Bacteria have been widely used as starter cultures in the food industry, notably for the fermentation of milk into dairy products such as cheese and yogurt. Lactic acid bacteria used in food manufacturing, such as lactobacilli, lactococci, streptococci, Leuconostoc, pediococci, and bifidobacteria, are selectively formulated based on functional characteristics that provide idiosyncratic flavor and texture attributes, as well as their ability to withstand processing and manufacturing conditions. Unfortunately, given frequent viral exposure in industrial environments, starter culture selection and development rely on defense systems that provide resistance against bacteriophage predation, including restriction-modification, abortive infection, and recently discovered CRISPRs (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats). CRISPRs, together with CRISPR-associated genes (cas), form the CRISPR/Cas immune system, which provides adaptive immunity against phages and invasive genetic elements. The immunization process is based on the incorporation of short DNA sequences from virulent phages into the CRISPR locus. Subsequently, CRISPR transcripts are processed into small interfering RNAs that guide a multifunctional protein complex to recognize and cleave matching foreign DNA. Hypervariable CRISPR loci provide insights into the phage and host population dynamics, and new avenues for enhanced phage resistance and genetic typing and tagging of industrial strains.
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