Plants synthesize a number of antimicrobial proteins in response to pathogen invasion and environmental stresses. These proteins include two classes of chitinases that have either basic or acidic isoelectric points and that are capable of degrading fungal cell wall chitin. We have cloned and determined the nucleotide sequence of the genes encoding the acidic and basic chitinases from Arabidopsis thaliana (L.) Heynh. Columbia wild type. Both chitinases are encoded by single copy genes that contain introns, a novel feature in chitinase genes. The basic chitinase has 73% amino acid sequence similarity to the basic chitinase from tobacco, and the acidic chitinase has 60% amino acid sequence similarity to the acidic chitinase from cucumber. Expression of the basic chitinase is organ-specific and age-dependent in Arabidopsis. A high constitutive level of expression was observed in roots with lower levels in leaves and flowering shoots. Exposure of plants to ethylene induced high levels of systemic expression of basic chitinase with expression increasing with plant age. Constitutive expression of basic chitinase was observed in roots of the ethylene insensitive mutant (etr) of Arabidopsis, demonstrating that root-specific expression is ethylene independent. Expression of the acidic chitinase gene was not observed in normal, untreated Arabidopsis plants or in plants treated with ethylene or salicylate. However, a transient expression assay indicated that the acidic chitinase promoter is active in Arabidopsis leaf tissue.