Hydroxycinnamates are ubiquitous in the environment because of their contributions to the structure and defense mechanisms of plants. Additional plant products, many of which are formed in response to stress, support the growth of Acinetobacter sp. strain ADP1 through pathways encoded by genes in the dca-pca-qui-pob chromosomal cluster. In an appropriate genetic background, it was possible to select for an Acinetobacter strain that had lost the ability to grow with caffeate, a commonly occurring hydroxycinnamate. The newly identified mutation was shown to be a deletion in a gene designated hcaC and encoding a ligase required for conversion of commonly occurring hydroxycinnamates (caffeate, ferulate, coumarate, and 3,4-dihydroxyphenylpropionate) to thioesters. Linkage analysis showed that hcaC is linked to pobA. Downstream from hcaC and transcribed in the direction opposite the direction of pobA transcription are open reading frames designated hcaDEFG. Functions of these genes were inferred from sequence comparisons and from the properties of knockout mutants. HcaD corresponded to an acyl coenzyme A (acyl-CoA) dehydrogenase required for conversion of 3,4-dihydroxyphenylpropionyl-CoA to caffeoyl-CoA. HcaE appears to encode a member of a family of outer membrane proteins known as porins. Knockout mutations in hcaF confer no discernible phenotype. Knockout mutations in hcaG indicate that this gene encodes a membrane-associated esterase that hydrolyzes chlorogenate to quinate, which is metabolized in the periplasm, and caffeate, which is metabolized by intracellular enzymes. The chromosomal location of hcaG, between hcaC (required for growth with caffeate) and quiA (required for growth with quinate), provided the essential clue that led to the genetic test of HcaG as the esterase that produces caffeate and quinate from chlorogenate. Thus, in this study, organization within what is now established as the dca-pca-qui-pob-hca chromosomal cluster provided essential information about the function of genes in the environment.