p-Hydroxyphenylbutan-2-one, the characteristic aroma compound of raspberries (Rubus idaeus L.), is synthesized from p-coumaryl-coenzyme A and malonyl-coenzyme A in a two-step reaction sequence that is catalyzed by benzalacetone synthase and benzalacetone reductase (W. Borejsza-Wysocki and G. Hrazdina  Phytochemistry 35: 623-628). Benzalacetone synthase condenses one malonate with p-coumarate to form the pathway intermediate p-hydroxyphenylbut-3-ene-2-one (p-hydroxybenzalacetone) in a reaction that is similar to those catalyzed by chalcone and stilbene synthases. We have obtained an enzyme preparation from ripe raspberries that was preferentially enriched in benzalacetone synthase (approximately 170-fold) over chalcone synthase (approximately 14-fold) activity. This preparation was used to characterize benzalacetone synthase and to develop polyclonal antibodies in rabbits. Benzalacetone synthase showed similarity in its molecular properties to chalcone synthase but differed distinctly in its substrate specificity, response to 2-mercaptoethanol and ethylene glycol, and induction in cell-suspension cultures. The product of the enzyme, p-hydroxybenzalacetone, inhibited mycelial growth of the raspberry pathogen Phytophthora fragariae var rubi at 250 [mu]M. We do not know whether the dual activity in the benzalacetone synthase preparation is the result of a bifunctional enzyme or is caused by contamination with chalcone synthase that was also present. The rapid induction of the enzyme in cell-suspension cultures upon addition of yeast extract and the toxicity of its product, p-hydroxybenzalacetone, to phytopathogenic fungi also suggest that the pathway may be part of a plant defense response.