Photoreaction centres are Nature's solar batteries. These nanometre-scale power producers are responsible for transducing the energy of sunlight into a form that can be used by biological systems, thereby powering most of the biological activity on the planet. Although to the layman the word ‘photosynthesis’ is usually associated with green plants, much of our understanding of the molecular basis of biological transduction of light energy has come from studies of purple photosynthetic bacteria. Their RCs (reaction centres) and attendant light-harvesting complexes have been subjected to an intensive spectroscopic scrutiny, coupled with genetic manipulation and structural studies, that has revealed many of the molecular and mechanistic details of biological energy transfer, electron transfer and coupled proton translocation. This review provides a short overview of the structure and mechanism of the purple bacterial RC, focusing in the main on the most heavily studied complex from Rhodobacter sphaeroides.

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