A century of gray: A genomic locus found in 2 distinct Pseudomonas spp. is associated with historical and contemporary color defects in dairy products worldwide

Samuel J. Reichler, Nicole H. Martin, Rachel L. Evanowski, Jasna Kovac, Martin Wiedmann, Renato H. Orsi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Some gram-negative bacteria, including Pseudomonas spp., can grow at refrigeration temperatures and cause flavor, odor, and texture defects in fluid milk. Historical and modern cases exist of gray and blue color defects in fluid milk due to Pseudomonas, and several recent reports have detailed fresh cheese spoilage associated with blue-pigment-forming Pseudomonas. Our goal was to investigate the genomes of pigmented Pseudomonas isolates responsible for historical and modern pigmented spoilage of dairy products in the United States to determine the genetic basis of pigment-forming phenotypes. We performed whole genome sequencing of 9 Pseudomonas isolates: 3 from recent incidents of gray-pigmented fluid milk (Pseudomonas fluorescens group), 1 from blue-pigmented cheese (P. fluorescens group), 2 from a historical blue milk spoilage incident (Pseudomonas putida group), and 3 with no evidence for blue or gray pigment formation (2 from P. fluorescens group and 1 from Pseudomonas chlororaphis group). All 6 isolates collected from products with a gray or blue pigment defect were confirmed to produce pigment using potato dextrose agar or pasteurized milk. A subset of 2 isolates was selected for inoculation into milk and onto the surface of a model cheese for subsequent color measurement. These isolates produced different colors on potato dextrose agar, but produced nearly identical color defects in milk and on model cheese. For the same subset of 2 isolates, the gray color defect in milk was produced only in containers with ample headspace and not in full containers, suggesting that oxygen is vital for pigment formation. This work also demonstrated that a Pseudomonas isolate from cheese can produce a pigment defect in milk, and vice versa. Comparative genomics identified an accessory locus encoding tryptophan biosynthesis genes that was present in all isolates that produced gray or blue pigment under laboratory conditions and was only previously reported in 2 P. fluorescens isolates responsible for blue mozzarella in Italy. Because this locus was found in genetically distant isolates belonging to different Pseudomonas species groups, it may have been acquired via horizontal gene transfer. These data suggest that several past and present gray- or blue-pigmented dairy spoilage events share a common genetic etiology that transcends species-level identification and merits further investigation to determine mechanistic details and modes of prevention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5979-6000
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of dairy science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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