The lactose transporter and β-galactosidase from Streptococcus thermophilus, encoded by the lacSZ operon, were introduced into the lactose-negative strain Lactococcus lactis MG1363 and the expression of the lacSZ operon was modulated by substitution of the native promoter with randomized synthetic promoters. A series of strains with various expression levels of lacSZ were examined for their fermentation of lactose. Strains with a high expression level were found to metabolize lactose in a similar manner to S. thermophilus, i.e. the galactose moiety of lactose was excreted to the growth medium and only glucose was metabolized in glycolysis. Interestingly, strains with low expression of the operon showed a mixed acid metabolism and co-metabolism of galactose and glucose. The lactose flux increased gradually with increasing expression of the lacSZ operon until an optimum was observed at intermediate β-galactosidase activities of 2000-3000 Miller units. At higher expression levels, the flux decreased. These strains had a glycolytic flux comparable with those of reference strains with the standard lactococcal PTSlac (lactose phosphotransferase transport system) lactose transporter, which indicates that lactose transport is not rate-limiting for glycolysis in Loctococcus. Finally, an additional ATP drain was introduced into the fastest growing strain, CS2004, to test whether the ATP demand controlled glycolysis under these conditions, but in fact no increase in glycolytic flux was observed. © 2008 Portland Press Ltd.