• 6-FEH;
  • Arabidopsis thaliana;
  • Beta vulgaris;
  • defence;
  • invertase;
  • Pichia expression


About 15% of flowering plant species synthesize fructans. Fructans serve mainly as reserve carbohydrates and are subject to breakdown by plant fructan exohydrolases (FEHs), among which 1-FEHs (inulinases) and 6-FEHs (levanases) can be differentiated. This paper describes the unexpected finding that 6-FEHs also occur in plants that do not synthesize fructans. The purification, characterization, cloning and functional analysis of sugar beet (Beta vulgaris L.) 6-FEH are described. Enzyme activity measurements during sugar beet development suggest a constitutive expression of the gene in sugar beet roots. Classical enzyme purification followed by in-gel trypsin digestion and mass spectrometry (quadruple-time-of-flight mass spectrometry (Q-TOF) MS) led to peptide sequence information used in subsequent RT-PCR based cloning. Levan-type fructans (β-2,6) are the best substrates for the enzyme, while inulin-type fructans (β-2,1) and sucrose are poorly or not degraded. Sugar beet 6-FEH is more related to cell wall invertases than to vacuolar invertases and has a low iso-electric point (pI), clearly different from typical high pI cell wall invertases. Poor sequence homology to bacterial or fungal FEHs makes an endophytic origin highly unlikely. The functionality of the 6-FEH cDNA was further demonstrated by heterologous expression in Pichia pastoris. As fructans are absent in sugar beet, the role of 6-FEH in planta is not obvious. Like chitinases and β-glucanases hydrolysing cell-surface components of fungal plant pathogens, a straightforward working hypothesis for further research might be that plant 6-FEHs participate in hydrolysis (or prevent the formation) of levan-containing slime surrounding endophytic or phytopathogenic bacteria.