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Thermophilic Chitinases: Structural, Functional and Engineering Attributes for Industrial Applications

Chitin is the second most widely found natural polymer next to cellulose. Chitinases degrade the insoluble chitin to bioactive chitooligomers and monomers for various industrial applications. Based on their function, these enzymes act as biocontrol agents against pathogenic fungi and invasive pests compared with conventional chemical fungicides and insecticides. They have other functional roles in shellfish waste management, fungal protoplast generation, and Single-Cell Protein production. Among the chitinases, thermophilic and thermostable chitinases are gaining popularity in recent years, as they can withstand high temperatures and maintain the enzyme stability for longer periods. Not all chitinases are thermostable; hence, tailor-made thermophilic chitinases are designed to enhance their thermostability by direct evolution, genetic engineering involving mutagenesis, and proteomics approach. Although research has been done extensively on cloning and expression of thermophilic chitinase genes, there are only few papers discussing on the mechanism of chitin degradation using thermophiles. The current review discusses the sources of thermophilic chitinases, improvement of protein stability by gene manipulation, metagenomics approaches, chitin degradation mechanism in thermophiles, and their prospective applications for industrial, agricultural, and pharmaceutical purposes.