All carbonic anhydrases (CAs) are zinc-dependent enzymes and a well-established mechanistic paradigm requires the coordination of substrate to the catalytic zinc ion (Zn2+). The structures determined for the b class carbonic anhydrases (ß-CAs), common in plants and bacteria, generally fall into two distinct subclasses based on the observed coordination of zinc. One subclass of ß-CAs coordinate Zn2+ tetrahedrally with four protein-derived ligands, and in this configuration access of substrate to the zinc coordination sphere is apparently blocked. The ability of substrate to coordinate to zinc is observed in the other structural subclass. The available evidence supports the hypothesis that the blocked configuration, as seen for example in ECCA, a ß-CA from Escherichia coli, represents an inactive conformation of the enzyme, and that all such ß-CAs can undergo a transition to an active conformation. In addition, a unique, non-catalytic binding mode for the substrate bicarbonate was discovered in ECCA that appears to stabilize the blocked, inactive form of the enzyme and seems to represent a regulatory mechanism.