The identity of alanine tRNAs is dependent on a G:U base pair at the 3:70 position of the acceptor helix. This system of molecular recognition is widely distributed from bacteria to human-cell cytoplasm. In contrast, some mitochondrial alanine acceptor helices are markedly different and contain nucleotides known to block aminoacylation by a nonmitochondrial enzyme. Thus, acceptor helix recognition may differ in these systems and may not depend on G:U. Here we report an example of a Caenorhabditis elegans mitochondrial system where the G:U pair is preserved but where proximal nucleotides known to block charging by a nonmitochondrial enzyme are also present. We show that, as expected, the mitochondrial substrate is not charged by the bacterial enzyme. In contrast, the cloned mitochondrial enzyme charged both mitochondrial and bacterial microhelices. Strikingly, charging of each required the G:U pair. Thus, G:U recognition persists even with an acceptor helix context that inactivates nonmitochondrial systems. The results suggest strong selective pressure to use G:U in a variety of contexts to mark an acceptor stem for alanine. Separate experiments also demonstrate that, at least for the mitochondrial enzyme, helix instability or irregularity is not important for recognition of G:U.