In response to low (approximately 1 microM) levels of selenium, Escherichia coli synthesizes tRNA(Glu) and tRNA(Lys) species that contain 5-methylaminomethyl-2-selenouridine (mnm5Se2U) instead of 5-methylaminomethyl-2-thiouridine (mnm5S2U). Purified glutamate- and lysine-accepting tRNAs containing either mnm5Se2U (tRNA(SeGlu), tRNA(SeLys] or mnm5S2U (tRNA(SGlu), tRNA(SLys] were prepared by RPC-5 reversed-phase chromatography, affinity chromatography using anti-AMP antibodies and DEAE-5PW ion-exchange HPLC. Since mnm5Se2U, like mnm5S2U, appears to occupy the wobble position of the anticodon, the recognition of glutamate codons (GAA and GAG) and lysine codons (AAA and AAG) was studied. While tRNA(SGlu) greatly preferred GAA over GAG, tRNA(SeGlu) showed less preference. Similarly, tRNA(SGlu) preferred AAA over AAG, while tRNA(SeLys) did not. In a wheat germ extract--rabbit globin mRNA translation system, incorporation of lysine and glutamate into protein was generally greater when added as aminoacylated tRNA(Se) than as aminoacylated tRNA(S). In globin mRNA the glutamate and lysine codons GAG and AAG are more numerous than GAA and AAA, thus a more efficient translation of globin message with tRNA(Se) might be expected because of facilitated recognition of codons ending in G.