In the denitrifying member of the beta-Proteobacteria Thauera aromatica, the anaerobic metabolism of aromatic acids such as benzoate or 2-aminobenzoate is initiated by the formation of the coenzyme A (CoA) thioester, benzoyl-CoA and 2-aminobenzoyl-CoA, respectively. Both aromatic substrates were transformed to the acyl-CoA intermediate by a single CoA ligase (AMP forming) that preferentially acted on benzoate. This benzoate-CoA ligase was purified and characterized as a 57-kDa monomeric protein. Based on V(max)/K(m), the specificity constant for 2-aminobenzoate was 15 times lower than that for benzoate; this may be the reason for the slower growth on 2-aminobenzoate. The benzoate-CoA ligase gene was cloned and sequenced and was found not to be part of the gene cluster encoding the general benzoyl-CoA pathway of anaerobic aromatic metabolism. Rather, it was located in a cluster of genes coding for a novel aerobic benzoate oxidation pathway. In line with this finding, the same CoA ligase was induced during aerobic growth with benzoate. A deletion mutant not only was unable to grow anaerobically on benzoate or 2-aminobenzoate, but also aerobic growth on benzoate was affected. This suggests that benzoate induces a single benzoate-CoA ligase. The product of benzoate activation, benzoyl-CoA, then acts as inducer of separate anaerobic or aerobic pathways of benzoyl-CoA, depending on whether oxygen is lacking or present.