The genetic code is established in aminoacylation reactions catalyzed by aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases. Many aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases require an additional domain for editing, to correct errors made by the catalytic domain. A nonfunctional editing domain results in an ambiguous genetic code, where a single codon is not translated as a specific amino acid but rather as a statistical distribution of amino acids. Here, wide-ranging consequences of genetic code ambiguity in Escherichia coli were investigated with an editing-defective isoleucyl-tRNA synthetase. Ambiguity retarded cell growth at most temperatures in rich and minimal media. These growth rate differences were seen regardless of the carbon source. Inclusion of an amino acid analogue that is misactivated (and not cleared) diminished growth rate by up to 100-fold relative to an isogenic strain with normal editing function. Experiments with target-specific antibiotics for ribosomes, DNA replication, and cell wall biosynthesis, in conjunction with measurements of mutation frequencies, were consistent with global changes in protein function caused by errors of translation and not editing-induced mutational errors. Thus, a single defective editing domain caused translationally generated global effects on protein functions that, in turn, provide powerful selective pressures for maintenance of editing by aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases.