Reaction centres are membrane-embedded pigment–protein complexes that transduce the energy of sunlight into a biologically useful form. The most heavily studied reaction centres are the PS-I (Photosystem I) and PS-II complexes from oxygenic phototrophs, and the reaction centre from purple photosynthetic bacteria. A great deal is known about the compositions and structures of these reaction centres, and the mechanism of light-activated transmembrane electron transfer, but less is known about how they interact with other components of the photosynthetic membrane, including the membrane lipids. X-ray crystallography has provided high-resolution structures for PS-I and the purple bacterial reaction centre, and revealed binding sites for a number of lipids, either embedded in the protein interior or attached to the protein surface. These lipids play a variety of roles, including the binding of cofactors and the provision of structural support. The challenges of modelling surface-associated electron density features such as lipids, detergents, small amphiphiles and ions are discussed.

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