Several pGEM5- and pUC19-derived plasmids containing a selectable erythromycin resistance marker were integrated into the chromosome of Streptococcus thermophilus at the loci of the lactose-metabolizing genes. Integration occurred via homologous recombination and resulted in cointegrates between plasmid and genome, flanked by the homologous DNA used for integration. Selective pressure on the plasmid-located erythromycin resistance gene resulted in multiple amplifications of the integrated plasmid. Release of this selective pressure, however, gave way to homologous resolution of the cointegrate structures. By integration and subsequent resolution, we were able to replace the chromosomal lacZ gene with a modified copy carrying an in vitro-generated deletion. In the same way, we integrated a promoterless chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (cat) gene between the chromosomal lacS and lacZ genes of the lactose operon. The inserted cat gene became a functional part of the operon and was expressed and regulated accordingly. Selective pressure on the essential lacS and lacZ genes under normal growth conditions in milk ensures the maintenance and expression of the integrated gene. As there are only minimal repeated DNA sequences (an NdeI site) flanking the inserted cat gene, it was stably maintained even in the absence of lactose, i.e., when grown on sucrose or glucose. The methodology represents a stable system in which to express and regulate foreign genes in S. thermophilus, which could qualify in the future for an application with food.
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