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To isolate new fungal strains from subtropical soils and to identify those that produce high cellulase activity. To select microbial strains producing thermostable cellulases with potential application in industry.The new strains Penicillium sp. CR-316 and Penicillium sp. CR-313 have been identified and selected because they secreted a high level of cellulase in media supplemented with rice straw. Analysis by sodium dodecyl sulfate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, isoelectric focussing and zymography showed that the studied strains secreted multiple enzymes that hydrolyse cellulose. Cellulase activity of Penicillium sp. CR-316, the strain showing higher production, was analysed. Optimum temperature and pH of carboxymethyl cellulase activity were 65°C and pH 4·5, respectively. Activity remained stable after incubation at 60°C and pH 4·5 for 3 h.Fungal strains that secrete high levels of cellulase activity have been characterized and selected from soil. The isolated strains have complex sets of enzymes for cellulose degradation. Crude cellulase produced by Penicillium sp. CR-316 showed activity and stability at high temperature.Two fungal strains with biotechnological potential have been isolated. The strains secrete high levels of cellulase, and one of them, Penicillium sp. CR-316, produces a thermostable cellulase, that makes it a good candidate for industrial applications.