Hsp70 chaperones assist protein folding processes through nucleotide-controlled cycles of substrate binding and release. In our effort to understand the structure-function relationship within the Hsp70 family of proteins, we characterized the Escherichia coli member of a novel Hsp70 subfamily, HscC, and identified considerable differences to the well studied E. coli homologue, DnaK, which together suggest that HscC is a specialized chaperone. The basal ATPase cycle of HscC had k(cat) and K(m) values that were 8- and 10,000-fold higher than for DnaK. The HscC ATPase was not affected by the nucleotide exchange factor of DnaK GrpE and stimulated 8-fold by DjlC, a DnaJ protein with a putative transmembrane domain, but not by other DnaJ proteins tested. Substrate binding dynamics and substrate specificity differed significantly between HscC and DnaK. These differences are explicable by distinct structural variations. HscC does not have general chaperone activity because it did not assist refolding of a denatured model substrate. In vivo, HscC failed to complement temperature sensitivity of DeltadnaK cells. Deletion of hscC caused a slow growth phenotype that was suppressed after several generations. Triple knock-outs of all E. coli genes encoding Hsp70 proteins (DeltadnaK DeltahscA DeltahscC) were viable, indicating that Hsp70 proteins are not strictly essential for viability. An extensive search for DeltahscC phenotypes revealed a hypersensitivity to Cd(2+) ions and UV irradiation, suggesting roles of HscC in the cellular response to these stress treatments. Together our data show that the Hsp70 structure exhibits an astonishing degree of adaptive variations to accommodate requirements of a specialized function.