The gene for a new type of pullulan hydrolase from the hyperthermophilic archaeon Thermococcus aggregans was cloned and expressed in Escherichia coli. The 2181-bp open reading frame encodes a protein of 727 amino acids. A hypothetical membrane linker region was found to be cleaved during processing in E. coli. The recombinant enzyme was purified 70-fold by heat treatment, affinity and anion exchange chromatography. Optimal activity was detected at 95 degrees C at a broad pH range from 3.5 to 8.5 with an optimum at pH 6.5. More than 35% of enzymatic activity was detected even at 120 degrees C. The enzyme was stable at 90 degrees C for several hours and exhibited a half-life of 2.5 h at 100 degrees C. Unlike all pullulan-hydrolysing enzymes described to date, the enzyme is able to attack alpha-1,6- as well as alpha-1,4-glycosidic linkages in pullulan leading to the formation of a mixture of maltotriose, panose, maltose and glucose. The enzyme is also able to degrade starch, amylose and amylopectin forming maltotriose and maltose as main products.