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Lactic acid bacteria are a common group of probiotics that have been widely studied and used in aquaculture. In the present study, we isolated Lactococcus lactis HNL12 from the gut of wild humpback grouper (Cromileptes altivelis) and explored its probiotic properties. For this purpose, L. lactis HNL12 was added to the commercial fish feed. The results showed that HNL12 had high auto-aggregation ability and strong tolerance to simulated gastrointestinal stress. When C. altivelis consumed a diet containing 0 (control), 106, 108, or 1010 CFU/g HNL12 for four weeks, all of the groupers fed a diet with HNL12 had significantly increased percent weight gain (PWG), especially those fed with 108 CFU/g, which had a PWG of 231.45%. Compared to the control, fish fed with L. lactis HNL12 exhibited significantly increased survival rates following injection with Vibrio harveyi after one month. Immunological analysis showed that C. altivelis fed with HNL12 had (i) enhanced respiratory burst activity of head kidney macrophages, superoxide dismutase, acid phosphatase, and lysozyme activities of serum; (ii) an improved survival rate from 36% to 70%; and (iii) upregulated expression of a broad spectrum of immunity. Meanwhile, de novo transcriptome assembly yielded 89,314 unigenes, which were annotated by at least one of the reference databases (Nr, Swiss-Prot, GO, COG and KEGG). A total of 307 genes showed significantly different expression between the groups fed with or without added HNL12. GO and KEGG enrichment analyses of the significantly different expression gene categories and pathways were related to infectious diseases, antigen processing and presentation, and other immune system responses. These results indicate that L. lactis HNL12 is effective for enhancing the growth, immunity, and disease resistance of C. altivelis; this study also provides insight into the use of probiotics for commercial applications.Lactococcus lactis HNL12 has a strong survivability capacity under simulated gastrointestinal stress.Cromileptes altivelis fed with HNL12 had better growth and enhanced non-specific immunity of C. altivelis than control group.Lactococcus lactis HNL12 as feeding could improve the disease resistance against Vibrio harveyi for Cromileptes altivelis.Transcriptome analysis provides insights into the immune response of Cromileptes altivelis fed with Lactococcus lactis HNL12.