A group I intron precursor and ribozyme were cloned from the large subunit rRNA of the human pathogen Candida albicans. Both the precursor and ribozyme are functional as determined from in vitro assays. Comparisons of dissociation constants for oligonucleotide binding to the ribozyme and to a hexanucleotide mimic of its internal guide sequence lead to a model for recognition of the 5' exon substrate by this intron. In particular, tertiary contacts with the P1 helix that help align the splice site include three 2'-hydroxyl groups, a G.U pair that occurs at the intron's splice junction, and a G.A pair. The free energy contribution that each interaction contributes to tertiary binding is determined. When the G.A pair is replaced with a G-C pair, tertiary interactions to 5' exon mimic 2'-hydroxyl groups are significantly weakened. When the G.A pair is replaced with a G.U pair, tertiary interactions are retained and binding is 10-fold tighter. These results expand our knowledge of substrate recognition by group I introns, and also provide a basis for rational design of oligonucleotide-based therapeutics for targeting group I introns by binding enhancement by tertiary interactions and suicide inhibition strategies.