The recent proposal of Tipton and Thowsen (Plant Physiol 79: 432-435) that iron-deficient plants reduce ferric chelates in cell walls by a system dependent on the leakage of malate from root cells was tested. Results are presented showing that this mechanism could not be responsible for the high rates of ferric reduction shown by roots of iron-deficient bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L. var Prélude) plants. The role of O(2) in the reduction of ferric chelates by roots of iron-deficient bean plants was also tested. The rate of Fe(III) reduction was the same in the presence and in the absence of O(2). However, in the presence of O(2) the reaction was partially inhibited by superoxide dismutase (SOD), which indicates a role for the superoxide radical, O(2) ([unk]), as a facultative intermediate electron carrier. The inhibition by SOD increased with substrate pH and with decrease in concentration of the ferrous scavenger bathophenanthroline-disulfonate. The results are consistent with a mechanism for transmembrane electron transport in which a flavin or quinone is the final electron carrier in the plasma membrane. The results are discussed in relation to the ecological importance that O(2) ([unk]) may have in the acquisition of ferric iron by dicotyledonous plants.