To investigate gene specificity at the level of translation in both the human genome and viruses, we devised a high-throughput bicistronic assay to quantify cap-independent translation.We uncovered thousands of novel cap-independent translation sequences, and we provide insights on the landscape of translational regulation in both humans and viruses.We find extensive translational elements in the 3? untranslated region of human transcripts and the polyprotein region of uncapped RNA viruses. Through the characterization of regulatory elements underlying cap-independent translation activity, we identify potential mechanisms of secondary structure, short sequence motif, and base pairing with the 18S ribosomal RNA (rRNA). Furthermore, we systematically map the 18S rRNA regions for which reverse complementarity enhances translation. Thus, we make available insights into the mechanisms of translational control in humans and viruses.