Thermotolerant Paenibacillus strain Dex70-1B and unidentified strain Dex70-34 produce thermoactive dextran-degrading enzymes. Plasmid-based genomic DNA libraries constructed from mixed bacterial cultures containing Dex70-1B or Dex70-34 were screened for the ability to confer dextranolytic activity at 70degreesC onto Escherichia coli. One gene, designated dex1, was isolated from each strain. The Dex70-1B and Dex70-34 dex1 gene sequences were non-identical, and encoded proteins containing 597 (M-r 68.6 kDa) and 600 amino acids (M-r 69.2 kDa), respectively. The Dex1 amino acid sequences were most similar to one another, and formed a new clade among the family 66 glycosyl hydrolase sequences. Expression of the Dex1 proteins in E. coli produced dextranolytic activity that converted ethanol-insoluble blue dextran into an ethanol-soluble form, suggestive of endodextranases (EC 188.8.131.52). Both enzymes were most active at about 60degreesC and pH 5.5, and retained more than 70% maximal activity after incubation at 57degreesC for 9.5 h in the absence of substrate.