Trl1 is an essential 827 amino acid enzyme that executes the end-healing and end-sealing steps of tRNA splicing in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Trl1 consists of two domains--an N-terminal ligase component and a C-terminal 5'-kinase/2',3'-cyclic phosphodiesterase (CPD) component--that can function in tRNA splicing in vivo when expressed as separate polypeptides. To understand the structural requirements for the kinase-CPD domain, we performed an alanine scan of 30 amino acids that are conserved in Trl1 homologs from other fungi. We thereby identified four residues (Arg463, His515, Thr675 and Glu741) as essential for activity in vivo. Structure-function relationships at these positions, and at four essential or conditionally essential residues defined previously (Asp425, Arg511, His673 and His777), were clarified by introducing conservative substitutions. Biochemical analysis showed that lethal mutations of Asp425, Arg463, Arg511 and His515 in the kinase module abolished polynucleotide kinase activity in vitro. We report that a recently cloned 1104 amino acid Arabidopsis RNA ligase functions in lieu of yeast Trl1 in vivo and identify essential side chains in the ligase, kinase and CPD modules of the plant enzyme. The plant ligase, like yeast Trl1 but unlike T4 RNA ligase 1, requires a 2'-PO4 end for tRNA splicing in vivo.