Transgenic tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L. cv. W38) plants with an antisense gene directed against the mRNA of the small subunit of Rubisco were used to investigate the role of O2 as an electron acceptor during photosynthesis. The reduction in Rubisco has reduced the capacity for CO2-fixation in these plants without a similar reduction in electron transport capacity. Concurrent measurements of chlorophyll fluorescence and CO2 assimilation at different CO2 and O2 partial pressures showed close linear relationships between chloroplast electron transport rates calculated from chlorophyll fluorescence and those calculated from CO2-fixation. These relationships were similar for wild-type and transgenic plants, indicating that the reduced capacity for CO2 fixation in the transgenic plants did not result in extra electron transport not associated with the photosynthetic carbon reduction (PCR) or photorespiratory carbon oxidation (PCO) cycle. This was further investigated with mass spectrometric measurements of 16O2 and 18O2 exchange made concurrently with measurements of chlorophyll fluorescence. In all tobacco lines the rates of 18O2 uptake in the dark were similar to the 18O2 uptake rates at very high CO2 partial pressures in the light. Rates of oxygenase activity calculated from 18O2 uptake at the compensation point were linearly related to the Rubisco content of leaves. The ratios of oxygenase to carboxylase rates were calculated from measurements of 16O2 evolution and 18O2 uptake at the compensation point. These ratios were lower in the transgenic plants, consistent with their higher CO2 compensation points. It is concluded that although there may be some electron transport to O2 to balance conflicting demands of NADPH to ATP requirements, this flux must decrease in proportion with the reduced demand for ATP and NADPH consumption in the transgenic lines. The altered balance between electron transport and Rubisco capacity, however, does not result in rampant electron transport to O2 or other electron transport acceptors in the absence of PCR and PCO cycle activity.