A fast, sensitive and easy colorimetric assay for chitinase and cellulase activity detection.

Alessandro Ferrari, Yasser Gaber, Marco Fraaije

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39 Citations (Scopus)
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Most of the current colorimetric methods for detection of chitinase or cellulase activities on the insoluble natural polymers chitin and cellulose depend on a chemical redox reaction. The reaction involves the reducing ends of the hydrolytic products. The Schales' procedure and the 3,5-dinitrosalicylic acid (DNS) method are two examples that are commonly used. However, these methods lack sensitivity and present practical difficulties of usage in high-throughput screening assays as they require boiling or heating steps for color development.
We report a novel method for colorimetric detection of chitinase and cellulase activity. The assay is based on the use of two oxidases: wild-type chito-oligosaccharide oxidase, ChitO, and a mutant thereof, ChitO-Q268R. ChitO was used for chitinase, while ChitO-Q268R was used for cellulase activity detection. These oxidases release hydrogen peroxide upon the oxidation of chitinase- or cellulase-produced hydrolytic products. The hydrogen peroxide produced can be monitored using a second enzyme, horseradish peroxidase (HRP), and a chromogenic peroxidase substrate. The developed ChitO-based assay can detect chitinase activity as low as 10 μU within 15 minutes of assay time. Similarly, cellulase activity can be detected in the range of 6 to 375 mU. A linear response was observed when applying the ChitO-based assay for detecting individual chito-oligosaccharides and cello-oligosaccharides. The detection limits for these compounds ranged from 5 to 25 μM. In contrast to the other commonly used methods, the Schales' procedure and the DNS method, no boiling or heating is needed in the ChitO-based assays. The method was also evaluated for detecting hydrolytic activity on biomass-derived substrates, that is, wheat straw as a source of cellulose and shrimp shells as a source of chitin.
The ChitO-based assay has clear advantages for the detection of chitinase and cellulase activity over the conventional Schales' procedure and DNS method. The detection limit is lower and there is no requirement for harsh conditions for the development of the signal. The assay also involves fewer and easier handling steps. There is no need for boiling to develop the color and results are available within 15 minutes. These aforementioned features render this newly developed assay method highly suitable for applications in biorefinery-related research.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages8
JournalBiotechnology for Biofuels
Issue number37
Publication statusPublished - 10-Mar-2014


  • Chitinase
  • Cellulase
  • Chito-oligosaccharide oxidase
  • High-throughput screening
  • Chitin
  • DNS
  • Schales’ procedure
  • Cellulose

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