A 34-nucleotide A-U sequence located immediately upstream of the editing sites of the Leishmania tarentolae cytochrome b mRNA induces a mitochondrial extract to insert U nucleotides independent of guide RNA. Insertions are localized to positions immediately 5' and 3' of the A-U sequence. When placed within an unedited mammalian transcript, the A-U sequence is sufficient to induce U-insertions. The sequence has a high degree of similarity with the templating nucleotides of a cytochrome b guide RNA and with a sequence adjacent to the editing sites in ND7 mRNA, the other characterized kinetoplastid mRNA supporting guide RNA-independent U-insertions. At least one protein specifically interacts with the A-U sequence. The reaction is consistent with a mechanism proposed for guide RNA-directed editing.