Mast cells (MCs) are highly specialized immune cells present in mammals and in lower organisms that predate the development of adaptive immunity. The strong evolutionary pressure to retain MCs for >500 million years suggests critical roles for these cells in our survival. In support of this conclusion, no human has been identified to date that lacks MCs, despite the adverse roles of MCs in systemic anaphylaxis and varied inflammatory disorders. MCs express numerous lineage-restricted neutral proteases, and four members of the chromosome 17A3.3 family of tryptases are preferentially expressed in mouse MCs. The anatomical location of MCs at host-environment interfaces has raised the possibility that some of these enzymes are evolutionally conserved because they are needed for combating infectious organisms. Here we review recent insights into the structure and function of MC tryptases in inflammation and host defense against bacteria and other infectious organisms.