In eukaryotic ribosomes, termination of translation is triggered by class 1 polypeptide release factor, eRF1. In organisms with a universal code, eRF1 responds to three stop codons, whereas, in ciliates with variant codes, only one or two codon(s) remain(s) as stop signals. By mutagenesis of the Y–C–F minidomain of the N domain, we converted an omnipotent human eRF1 recognizing all three stop codons into a unipotent ‘ciliate-like’ UGA-only eRF1. The conserved Cys127 located in the Y–C–F minidomain plays a critical role in stop codon recognition. The UGA-only response has also been achieved by concomitant substitutions of four other amino acids located at the Y–C–F and NIKS minidomains of eRF1. We suggest that for eRF1 the stop codon decoding is of a non-linear (non-protein-anticodon) type and explores a combination of positive and negative determinants. We assume that stop codon recognition is profoundly different by eukaryotic and prokaryotic class 1 RFs.