A thiocyanate hydrolase that catalyzes the first step in thiocyanate degradation was purified to homogeneity from Thiobacillus thioparus, an obligate chemolithotrophic eubacterium metabolizing thiocyanate to sulfate as an energy source. The thiocyanate hydrolase was purified 52-fold by steps involving ammonium sulfate precipitation, DEAE-Sephacel column chromatography, and hydroxylapatite column chromatography. The enzyme hydrolyzed 1 mol of thiocyanate to form 1 mol of carbonyl sulfide and 1 mol of ammonia as follows: SCN- + 2H2O----COS + NH3 + OH-. This is the first report describing the hydrolysis of thiocyanate to carbonyl sulfide by an enzyme. The enzyme had a molecular mass of 126 kDa and was composed of three different subunits: alpha (19 kDa), beta (23 kDa), and gamma (32 kDa). The enzyme exhibited optimal activities at pH 7.5-8.0 and at temperatures ranging from 30 to 40 degrees C. The Km value for thiocyanate was approximately 11 mM. Immunoblot analysis with polyclonal antibodies against the purified enzyme suggested that it was induced in T. thioparus cells when the cells were grown with thiocyanate.