A comparative study of 30 phages of Streptococcus thermophilus was performed based on DNA restriction profiles, DNA homology, structural proteins, packaging mechanisms, and host range data. All phages exhibited distinct DNA restriction profiles, with some phages displaying similarly sized restriction fragments. DNA homology was shown to be present among all 30 phages. The phages could be divided into two groups on the basis of their packaging mechanism as was derived from the appearance of submolar DNA fragments in restriction enzyme digests and the presence (cos-containing phages) or absence (pac-containing phages) of cohesive genomic extremities. Interestingly, the 19 identified cos-containing phages possessed two major structural proteins (32 and 26 kDa) in contrast to the remaining 11 pac-containing phages, which possessed three major structural proteins (41, 25, and 13 kDa). Southern hybridization demonstrated that all pac-containing phages tested contain homologs of the genes encoding the three major structural proteins of the pac-containing phage O1205, whereas all cos-containing phages tested exhibit homology to the gene specifying one of the structural components of the cos-containing phage phi 7201. Fifty-seven percent of the phages (both cos and pac containing) possessed the previously identified 2.2-kb EcoRI fragment of the temperate S. thermophilus phage Sfi18 (H. Br�ssow, A. Probst, M. Fr�mont, and J. Sidoti, Virology 200:854-857, 1994). No obvious correlation was detected between grouping based on packaging mechanism and host range data obtained with 39 industrial S. thermophilus strains.