To examine the ecology and evolution of microbial chitinases, especially the chitin-binding domain, one of the chitinase genes () from the marine bacterium was analysed. The deduced amino acid sequence of ChiA is not very similar overall to other proteins, except for two regions, the putative catalytic and chitin-binding domains. Among all bacterial chitinases sequenced to date, there is no relationship between percentage similarity of catalytic domains and chitin-binding domains in pairwise comparisons, suggesting that these two domains have evolved separately. The chitin-binding domain appears to be evolutionarily conserved among many bacterial chitinases and is also somewhat similar to cellulose-binding domains found in microbial cellulases and xylanases. To investigate the role of the chitin-binding domain, clones producing versions of ChiA with or without this domain were examined. One version with the domain (ChiA1) bound to and hydrolysed chitin, whereas a truncated ChiA without the putative chitin-binding domain (ChiA2) did not bind to chitin but it could hydrolyse chitin, although not as well. ChiA1 diffused more slowly in agarose containing colloidal chitin than ChiA2, but diffusion of the Two proteins in agarose without colloidal chitin was similar. These results indicate that the chitin-binding domain helps determine the movement of chitinase along -acetylglucosamine strands and within environments containing chitin.


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