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Biophys J. 2000 Jun;78(6):3178-85.

Characterization of conditions required for X-Ray diffraction experiments with protein microcrystals.

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Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California-Berkeley 94720, USA.


The x-ray exposure at which significant radiation damage occurs has been quantified for frozen crystals of bacteriorhodopsin. The maximum exposure to approximately 11-keV x-rays that can be tolerated for high-resolution diffraction experiments is found to be approximately 10(10) photons/microm(2), very close to the value predicted from limits that were measured earlier for electron diffraction exposures. Sample heating, which would further reduce the x-ray exposure that could be tolerated, is not expected to be significant unless the x-ray flux density is well above 10(9) photons/s-microm(2). Crystals of bacteriorhodopsin that contain approximately 10(11) unit cells are found to be large enough to give approximately 100 high-resolution diffraction patterns, each covering one degree of rotation. These measurements are used to develop simple rules of thumb for the minimum crystal size that can be used to record x-ray diffraction data from protein microcrystals. For work with very small microcrystals to be realized in practice, however, it is desirable that there be a significant reduction in the level of background scattering. Background reduction can readily be achieved by improved microcollimation of the x-ray beam, and additional gains can be realized by the use of helium rather than nitrogen in the cold gas stream that is used to keep the protein crystals frozen.

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