Background Simmondsia chinensis (jojoba) is the only plant known to store wax esters instead of triacylglycerols in its seeds. Wax esters are composed of very-long-chain monounsaturated fatty acids and fatty alcohols and constitute up to 60% of the jojoba seed weight. During jojoba germination, the first step of wax ester mobilization is catalyzed by lipases. To date, none of the jojoba lipase-encoding genes have been cloned and characterized. In this study, we monitored mobilization of storage reserves during germination of jojoba seeds and performed detailed characterization of the jojoba lipases using microsomal fractions isolated from germinating seeds. Results During 26 days of germination, we observed a 60-70% decrease in wax ester content in the seeds, which was accompanied by the reduction of oleosin amounts and increase in glucose content. The activity of jojoba lipases in the seed microsomal fractions increased in the first 50 days of germination. The enzymes showed higher activity towards triacylglycerols than towards wax esters. The maximum lipase activity was observed at 60 degrees C and pH around 7 for triacylglycerols and 6.5-8 for wax esters. The enzyme efficiently hydrolyzed various wax esters containing saturated and unsaturated acyl and alcohol moieties. We also demonstrated that jojoba lipases possess wax ester-synthesizing activity when free fatty alcohols and different acyl donors, including triacylglycerols and free fatty acids, are used as substrates. For esterification reactions, the enzyme utilized both saturated and unsaturated fatty alcohols, with the preference towards long chain and very long chain compounds. Conclusions In in vitro assays, jojoba lipases catalyzed hydrolysis of triacylglycerols and different wax esters in a broad range of temperatures. In addition, the enzymes had the ability to synthesize wax esters in the backward reaction. Our data suggest that jojoba lipases may be more similar to other plant lipases than previously assumed.