Biosynthesis of the carbon chain backbone of the R1128 substances is believed to involve the activity of a ketosynthase/chain length factor (ZhuB/ZhuA), an additional ketosynthase (ZhuH), an acyl transferase (ZhuC), and two acyl carrier proteins (ACPs; ZhuG and ZhuN). A subset of these proteins initiate chain synthesis via decarboxylative condensation between an acetyl-, propionyl-, isobutyryl-, or butyryl-CoA derived primer unit and a malonyl-CoA derived extender unit to yield an acetoacetyl-, beta-ketopentanoyl-, 3-oxo-4-methylpentanoyl-, or beta-ketohexanoyl-ACP product, respectively. To investigate the precise roles of ZhuH, ZhuC, ZhuG, and ZhuN, each protein was expressed in Escherichia coli and purified to homogeneity. Although earlier reports had proposed that ZhuC and its homologues played a role in primer unit selection, direct in vitro analysis of ZhuC showed that it was in fact a malonyl-CoA:ACP malonyltransferase (MAT). The enzyme could catalyze malonyl transfer but not acetyl- or propionyl-transfer onto R1128 ACPs or onto ACPs from other biosynthetic pathways, suggesting that ZhuC has broad substrate specificity with respect to the holo-ACP substrate but is specific for malonyl-CoA. Thus, ZhuC supplies extender units to both the initiating and elongating ketosynthases from this pathway. To interrogate the primer unit specificity of ZhuH, the kinetics of beta-ketoacyl-ACP formation in the presence of various acyl-CoAs and malonyl-ZhuG were measured. Propionyl-CoA and isobutyryl-CoA were the two most preferred substrates of ZhuH, although acetyl-CoA and butyryl-CoA could also be accepted and elongated. This specificity is not only consistent with earlier reports demonstrating that R1128B and R1128C are the major products of the R1128 pathway in vivo, but is also in good agreement with the properties of the ZhuH substrate binding pocket, as deduced from a recently solved crystal structure of the enzyme. Finally, to investigate the molecular logic for the occurrence of not one but two ACP genes within the R1128 gene cluster, the inhibition of ZhuH-catalyzed formation of beta-ketopentanoyl-ACP was quantified in the presence of apo-ZhuG or apo-ZhuN. Both apo-proteins were comparable inhibitors of the ZhuH catalyzed reaction, suggesting that the corresponding apo-proteins can be used interchangeably during chain initiation. Together, these results provide direct biochemical insights into the mechanism of chain initiation of an unusual bacterial aromatic PKS.