The mechanism of action of the p-nitrodiphenyl ether herbicides has remained ambiguous because of conflicting reports in the literature. The diphenyl ether herbicide oxyfluorfen causes a light induced consumption of oxygen which resembles the electron acceptor reaction of paraquat. However, this reaction is not linked to the transport of electrons through photosystem I. This conclusion is based on the observation that the rate of oxygen consumption, in the presence of oxyfluorfen, does not demonstrate a first order rate dependence on light intensity. Using the bleaching of N,N-dimethyl p-nitrosoaniline as a specific detector of singlet oxygen, we demonstrate that oxyfluorfen is a potent generator of this toxic radical. The production of singlet oxygen occurs in the presence of inhibitors of photosynthetic electron transport (oxyfluorfen at 10(-4) molar and paraquat) and also under temperature conditions (3 degrees C) which prevent electron transport. This light induced reaction results in oxygen consumption and is the primary cause of lethality for oxyfluorfen. The production of singlet oxygen occurs rapidly and at low herbicide concentrations (10(-9) molar). The reaction occurs without photosynthetic electron transport but does require an intact thylakoid membrane.
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