An esterase gene, designated estB, was isolated from a genomic library of Lactobacillus casei LILA. Nucleotide sequencing of the estB gene revealed a 954-bp open reading frame encoding a putative peptide of 35.7 kDa. The deduced amino acid sequence of EstB contained the characteristic GXSXG active-site serine motifidentified in most lipases and esterases. An EstB fusion protein containing a C-terminal 6-histidine tag was constructed and purified to electrophoretic homogeneity by affinity chromatography. The native molecular weight of EstB was 216.5 +/- 2.5 kDa, while the subunit molecular weight was 36.7 +/- 1.0 kDa. Optimum pH, temperature, and NaCl concentration for EstB were determined to be pH 7.0,50 to 55 degrees C, and 15% NaCl, respectively. EstB had significant activity under conditions simulating those of ripening cheese (pH 5.1, 10 degrees C, and 4% NaCl). Kinetic constants (KM and Vmax) were determined for EstB action on a variety of ethyl esters and ester compounds consisting of substituted phenyl alcohols and short n-chain fatty acids. For comparison purposes, EstA from Lb. helveticus CNRZ32 was purified to electrophoretic homogeneity and its substrate selectivity determined in a similar fashion. Different substrate selectivities were observed for EstB and EstA.