The respiratory release of CO2 from soils is a major determinant of the global carbon cycle. It is traditionally considered that this respiration is an intracellular metabolism consisting of complex biochemical reactions carried out by numerous enzymes and co-factors. Here we show that the endoenzymes released from dead organisms are stabilised in soils and have access to suitable substrates and co-factors to permit function. These enzymes reconstitute an extracellular oxidative metabolism (EXOMET) that may substantially contribute to soil respiration (16 to 48% of CO2 released from soils in the present study). EXOMET and respiration from living organisms should be considered separately when studying effects of environmental factors on the C cycle because EXOMET shows specific properties such as resistance to high temperature and toxic compounds.