By using a gene library of Bacillus caldolyticus constructed in phage lambda EMBL12 and selecting for proteolytically active phages on plates supplemented with 0.8% skim milk, chromosomal B. caldolyticus DNA fragments that specified proteolytic activity were obtained. Subcloning of one of these fragments in a protease-deficient Bacillus subtilis strain resulted in protease proficiency of the host. The nucleotide sequence of a 2-kb HinfI-MluI fragment contained an open reading frame (ORF) that specified a protein of 544 amino acids. This ORF was denoted as the B. caldolyticus npr gene, because the nucleotide and amino acid sequences of the ORF were highly similar to that of the Bacillus stearothermophilus npr gene. Additionally, the size, pH optimum, and sensitivity to the specific Npr inhibitor phosphoramidon of the secreted enzyme indicated that the B. caldolyticus enzyme was a neutral protease. The B. sterothermophilus and B. caldolyticus enzymes differed at only three amino acid positions. Nevertheless, the thermostability and optimum temperature of the B. caldolyticus enzyme were 7 to 8 degrees C higher than those of the B. stearothermophilus enzyme. In a three-dimensional model of the B. stearothermophilus Npr the three substitutions (Ala-4 to Thr, Thr-59 to Ala, and Thr-66 to Phe) were present at solvent-exposed positions. The role of these residues in thermostability was analyzed by using site-directed mutagenesis. It was shown that all three amino acid substitutions contributed to the observed difference in thermostability between the neutral proteases from B. stearothermophilus and B. caldolyticus.
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