RNAs that contain specific high-affinity binding sites for small molecule ligands immobilized on a solid support are present at a frequency of roughly one in 10(10)-10(11) in pools of random sequence RNA molecules. Here we describe a new in vitro selection procedure designed to ensure the isolation of RNAs that bind the ligand of interest in solution as well as on a solid support. We have used this method to isolate a remarkably small RNA motif that binds ATP, a substrate in numerous biological reactions and the universal biological high-energy intermediate. The selected ATP-binding RNAs contain a consensus sequence, embedded in a common secondary structure. The binding properties of ATP analogues and modified RNAs show that the binding interaction is characterized by a large number of close contacts between the ATP and RNA, and by a change in the conformation of the RNA.