Conjugative transfer of plasmid-associated properties is routinely used to generate food-grade derivatives of lactococcal starter strains with improved technological traits. However, the introduction of one or more plasmids in a single strain is likely to impose a burden on regular cell metabolism and may affect the growth characteristics of the transconjugant culture. The aim of this study was to evaluate the impact of the 60.2-kb plasmid pMRC01 (encoding for an abortive infection bacteriophage resistance system and production of the anti-microbial, lacticin 3147) on starter performance. Five lactococcal strains (L lactis HP, 255A, SKI, 712 and IL1403) and their pMRC01-containing derivatives were compared in terms of technological properties, including analysis of growth, acidification and autolysis rates. The transconjugants exhibited lower specific growth rates and higher generation times compared to the parental strains when grown at 30 degrees C in glucose-M17, but the presence of pMRC01 did not significantly affect the acidification capacity of strains in 11% reconstituted skimmed milk and synthetic media. Levels of lactate dehydrogenase were two-fold higher in supernatants of transconjugants than in those of parental strains, after 24 and 72 h of growth at 30 degrees C in glucose-M17, suggesting that the presence of pMRC01 somehow accelerates and promotes cellular autolysis. Analysis by flow cytometry following live/dead(TM) staining confirmed this result by showing larger populations of injured and dead cells in pMRC01-carrying cultures compared to the parental strains. The results of this study reveal that the plasmid pMRC01 places a burden on lactococcal host metabolism, which is associated with an increased cell permeability and autolysis, without significantly affecting the acidification capacity of the starter. While the magnitude of these effects appears to be strain dependent, the production of the bacteriocin lacticin 3147 may not be involved. (C) 2009 Published by Elsevier B.V..