Aloesone synthase (ALS) and chalcone synthase (CHS) are plant-specific type III poyketide synthases sharing 62% amino acid sequence identity. ALS selects acetyl-CoA as a starter and carries out six successive condensations with malonyl-CoA to produce a heptaketide aloesone, whereas CHS catalyses condensations of 4-coumaroyl-CoA with three malonyl-CoAs to generate chalcone. In ALS, CHS's Thr197, Gly256, and Ser338, the active site residues lining the initiation/elongation cavity, are uniquely replaced with Ala, Leu, and Thr, respectively. A homology model predicted that the active site architecture of ALS combines a ‘horizontally restricting’ G256L substitution with a ‘downward expanding’ T197A replacement relative to CHS. Moreover, ALS has an additional buried pocket that extends into the ‘floor’ of the active site cavity. The steric modulation thus facilitates ALS to utilize the smaller acetyl-CoA starter while providing adequate volume for the additional polyketide chain extensions. In fact, it was demonstrated that CHS-like point mutations at these positions (A197T, L256G, and T338S) completely abolished the heptaketide producing activity. Instead, A197T mutant yielded a pentaketide, 2,7-dihydroxy-5-methylchromone, while L256G and T338S just afforded a triketide, triacetic acid lactone. In contrast, L256G accepted 4-coumaroyl-CoA as starter to efficiently produce a tetraketide, 4-coumaroyltriacetic acid lactone. These results suggested that Gly256 determines starter substrate selectivity, while Thr197 located at the entrance of the buried pocket controls polyketide chain length. Finally, Ser338 in proximity of the catalytic Cys164 guides the linear polyketide intermediate to extend into the pocket, thus leading to formation of the hepataketide in Rheum palmatum ALS.