The first elongation step to form very-long-chain fatty acids (VLCFAs) is catalyzed by the VLCFA-synthase. CoA-activated fatty acids react with malonyl-CoA to condense a C2-unit. As shown with recombinant enzyme this reaction is specifically inhibited by chloroacetamide herbicides. The inhibition is alleviated when the inhibitor (e.g. metazachlor) is incubated together with adequate concentrations of the substrate (e.g. oleoyl-CoA). Malonyl-CoA has no influence. However, once a chloroacetamide has been tightly bound to the synthase after an appropriate time it cannot be displaced anymore by the substrate. In contrast, oleoyl-CoA, is easily removed from the synthase by metazachlor. The irreversible binding of the chloroacetamides and their competition with the substrate explains the very low half-inhibition values of 10(-8) M and below. Chiral chloroacetamides like metolachlor or dimethenamid give identical results. However, only the (S)-enantiomers are active.