Photosystem II is a multisubunit enzyme complex involved in plant photosynthesis. It uses solar energy to catalyse the breakdown of water to reducing equivalents and molecular oxygen. Native photosystem II comprises more than 25 different subunits, and has a relative molecular mass of more than 600K. Here we report the three-dimensional structure of a photosystem II subcomplex, containing the proteins D1, D2, CP47 and cytochrome b-559, determined by electron crystallography. This CP47 reaction centre, which has a relative molecular mass of 160K, can perform light-mediated energy and electron-transfer reactions but is unable to oxidize water. The complex contains 23 transmembrane alpha-helices, of which 16 have been assigned to the D1, D2 and CP47 proteins. The arrangement of these helices is remarkably similar to that of the helices in the reaction centres of purple bacteria and of plant photosystem I, indicating a common evolutionary origin for these assemblies. The map suggests that redox cofactors in the D1-D2 complex are located in positions analogous to those in the bacterial reaction centre, but the distance between the chlorophylls corresponding to the bacterial 'special pair' is significantly larger.