Eukaryotic initiation factor eIF1 and the functional C-terminal domain of prokaryotic initiation factor IF3 maintain the fidelity of initiation codon selection in eukaryotes and prokaryotes, respectively, and bind to the same regions of small ribosomal subunits, between the platform and initiator tRNA. Here we report that these nonhomologous factors can bind to the same regions of heterologous subunits and perform their functions in heterologous systems in a reciprocal manner, discriminating against the formation of initiation complexes containing codon-anticodon mismatches. We also show that like IF3, eIF1 can influence initiator tRNA selection, which occurs at the stage of ribosomal subunit joining after eIF5-induced hydrolysis of eIF2-bound GTP. The mechanisms of initiation codon and initiator tRNA selection in prokaryotes and eukaryotes are therefore unexpectedly conserved and likely involve related conformational changes induced in the small ribosomal subunit by factor binding. YciH, a prokaryotic eIF1 homologue, could perform some of IF3's functions, which justifies the possibility that YciH and eIF1 might have a common evolutionary origin as initiation factors, and that IF3 functionally replaced YciH in prokaryotes.