SUMMARY: Chitinases were isolated from the grains of wheat, barley and maize, and compared with those obtained from and for antifungal activity and enzyme specificity. The six enzymes were tested for antifungal activity using an assay based upon inhibition of hyphal extension of the fungi and Antifungal activity was observed with as little as 1 μg of each of the grain chitinases, whereas none of the bacterial chitinases had any effect on hyphal extension, even at 50 μg chitinase per assay. This difference in antifungal activity correlated with the different mechanisms of action of the two classes of enzymes. In common with other plant chitinases, the grain chitinases functioned as endochitinases and contained lysozyme activity. In contrast, the bacterial enzymes were exochitinases and hydrolysed the chromogenic trisaccharide analogue -nitrophenyl-β---diacetylchitobiose, which proved to be an excellent substrate for assaying bacterial chitinases. These experiments strengthen the hypothesis that plant chitinases function to protect the host against fungal infections.


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