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Summary

Nitrilase enzymes (nitrilases) catalyse the hydrolysis of nitrile compounds to the corresponding carboxylic acid and ammonia, and have a wide range of industrial and biotechnological applications, including the synthesis of industrially important carboxylic acids and bioremediation of cyanide and toxic nitriles. Nitrilases are produced by a wide range of organisms, including plants, bacteria and fungi, but despite their biotechnological importance, the role of these enzymes in living organisms is relatively underexplored. Current research suggests that nitrilases play important roles in a range of biological processes. In the context of plant–microbe interactions they may have roles in hormone synthesis, nutrient assimilation and detoxification of exogenous and endogenous nitriles. Nitrilases are produced by both plant pathogenic and plant growth-promoting microorganisms, and their activities may have a significant impact on the outcome of plant–microbe interactions. In this paper we review current knowledge of the role of nitriles and nitrilases in plants and plant-associated microorganisms, and discuss how greater understanding of the natural functions of nitrilases could be applied to benefit both industry and agriculture.