Potential errors in decoding genetic information are corrected by tRNA-dependent amino acid recognition processes manifested through editing reactions. One example is the rejection of difficult-to-discriminate misactivated amino acids by tRNA synthetases through hydrolytic reactions. Although several crystal structures of tRNA synthetases and synthetase-tRNA complexes exist, none of them have provided insight into the editing reactions. Other work suggested that editing required active amino acid acceptor hydroxyl groups at the 3' end of a tRNA effector. We describe here the isolation of a DNA aptamer that specifically induced hydrolysis of a misactivated amino acid bound to a tRNA synthetase. The aptamer had no effect on the stability of the correctly activated amino acid and was almost as efficient as the tRNA for inducing editing activity. The aptamer has no sequence similarity to that of the tRNA effector and cannot be folded into a tRNA-like structure. These and additional data show that active acceptor hydroxyl groups in a tRNA effector and a tRNA-like structure are not essential for editing. Thus, specific bases in a nucleic acid effector trigger the editing response.