Research Article: Resolving polymorphs and radiation-driven effects in microcrystals using fixed-target serial synchrotron crystallography

Date Published: February 01, 2019

Publisher: International Union of Crystallography

Author(s): Ali Ebrahim, Martin V. Appleby, Danny Axford, John Beale, Tadeo Moreno-Chicano, Darren A. Sherrell, Richard W. Strange, Michael A. Hough, Robin L. Owen.


Multiple dose-dependent room-temperature structures of copper nitrite reductase were determined from microcrystals in a single silicon nitride fixed-target chip. The separation of crystal polymorphs into distinct structures is described, together with the characterization of X-ray-irradiation effects through the dose series.

Partial Text

X-ray crystallography using synchrotron radiation is at the core of structural biology, providing atomic-level insight into key biological processes. However, it has long been recognized that the X-rays that are used to determine structures also cause changes to the crystal lattice and protein structure, a phenomenon known as radiation damage. Polymorphism and non-isomorphism of crystals have been a challenge in protein crystallography since the earliest days of the field, with an early example of non-isomorphism being the separation of lysozyme into type I and type II in the 1960s (described in detail in Blake et al., 2012 ▸) to allow the structure determination of (type II) lysozyme. The rise of cryo-crystallography in the 1990s (reviewed by Garman, 1999 ▸) made single-crystal structure determination routine, but the use of more intense X-ray beams, and the desire to determine structures from ever smaller crystals, has made multi-crystal structure determination the norm once more.

We have demonstrated the capability to obtain room-temperature dose-dependent structures from microcrystals in silicon nitride fixed-target chips in a highly sample- and time-efficient manner. This approach is termed multiple serial structures from many crystals (MSS). An important advantage of the MSS approach is that each data set/structure within the dose series may be improved by simply repeating the measurement on additional chips and increasing the number of merged stills contributing to each dose point. This is in contrast to single-crystal experiments, in which improvements in resolution/redundancy must typically be gained at the cost of a higher dose per data set. The observed resolution of 1.48 Å is comparable to the resolution of 1.40 Å achieved using a single large room-temperature crystal at a comparable dose (Horrell et al., 2018 ▸). Through the use of a serial approach, we were able to obtain serial structures at lower dose points from significantly smaller crystals using a beam with a flux density more than an order of magnitude greater.




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