The phosphotransferases of the haloalkanoate dehalogenase superfamily (HADSF) act upon a wide range of metabolites in all eukaryotes and prokaryotes and thus constitute a significant force in cell function. The challenge posed for biochemical function assignment of HADSF members is the identification of the structural determinants that target a specific metabolite. The "8KDOP" subfamily of the HADSF is defined by the known structure and catalytic activity of 2-keto-3-deoxy-8-phospho-d-manno-octulosonic acid (KDO-8-P) phosphatase. Homologues of this enzyme have been uniformly annotated as KDO-8-P phosphatase. One such gene, BT1713, from the Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron genome was recently found to encode the enzyme 2-keto-3-deoxy-d-glycero-d-galacto-9-phosphonononic acid (KDN-9-P) phosphatase in the biosynthetic pathway of the 9-carbon alpha-keto acid, 2-keto-3-deoxy-d-glycero-d-galactonononic acid (KDN). To find the structural elements that provide substrate-specific interactions and to allow identification of genomic sequence markers, the x-ray crystal structures of BT1713 liganded to the cofactor Mg(2+)and complexed with tungstate or VO(3)(-)/Neu5Ac were determined to 1.1, 1.85, and 1.63 A resolution, respectively. The structures define the active site to be at the subunit interface and, as confirmed by steady-state kinetics and site-directed mutagenesis, reveal Arg-64(*), Lys-67(*), and Glu-56 to be the key residues involved in sugar binding that are essential for BT1713 catalytic function. Bioinformatic analyses of the differentially conserved residues between BT1713 and KDO-8-P phosphatase homologues guided by the knowledge of the structure-based specificity determinants define Glu-56 and Lys-67(*) to be the key residues that can be used in future annotations.