Drosophila melanogaster Pumilio is an RNA-binding protein that potently represses specific mRNAs. In developing embryos, Pumilio regulates a key morphogen, Hunchback, in collaboration with the cofactor Nanos. To investigate repression by Pumilio and Nanos, we created cell-based assays and found that Pumilio inhibits translation and enhances mRNA decay independent of Nanos. Nanos robustly stimulates repression through interactions with the Pumilio RNA-binding domain. We programmed Pumilio to recognize a new binding site, which garners repression of new target mRNAs. We show that cofactors Brain Tumor and eIF4E Homologous Protein are not obligatory for Pumilio and Nanos activity. The conserved RNA-binding domain of Pumilio was thought to be sufficient for its function. Instead, we demonstrate that three unique domains in the N terminus of Pumilio possess the major repressive activity and can function autonomously. The N termini of insect and vertebrate Pumilio and Fem-3 binding factors (PUFs) are related, and we show that corresponding regions of human PUM1 and PUM2 have repressive activity. Other PUF proteins lack these repression domains. Our findings suggest that PUF proteins have evolved new regulatory functions through protein sequences appended to their conserved PUF repeat RNA-binding domains.