The low temperature crystal structure of the ternary complex of Thermus thermophilus seryl-tRNA synthetase with tRNA(Ser) (GGA) and a non-hydrolysable seryl-adenylate analogue has been refined at 2.7 angstrom resolution. The analogue is found in both active sites of the synthetase dimer but there is only one tRNA bound across the two subunits. The motif 2 loop of the active site into which the single tRNA enters interacts within the major groove of the acceptor stem. In particular, a novel ring-ring interaction between Phe262 on the extremity of this loop and the edges of bases U68 and C69 explains the conservation of pyrimidine bases at these positions in serine isoaccepting tRNAs. This active site takes on a significantly different ordered conformation from that observed in the other subunit, which lacks tRNA. Upon tRNA binding, a number of active site residues previously found interacting with the ATP or adenylate now switch to participate in tRNA recognition. These results shed further light on the structural dynamics of the overall aminoacylation reaction in class II synthetases by revealing a mechanism which may promote an ordered passage through the activation and transfer steps.