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Locating and visualizing crystals for X-ray diffraction experiments

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Macromolecular crystallography has advanced from using macroscopic crystals, which might be >1 mm on a side, to crystals that are essentially invisible to the naked eye, or even under a standard laboratory microscope. As crystallography requires recognizing crystals when they are produced, and then placing them in an X-ray, electron, or neutron beam, this provides challenges, particularly in the case of advanced X-ray sources, where beams have very small cross sections and crystals may be vanishingly small. Methods for visualizing crystals are reviewed here, and examples of different types of cases are presented, including: standard crystals, crystals grown in mesophase, in situ crystallography, and crystals grown for X-ray Free Electron Laser or Micro Electron Diffraction experiments. As most techniques have limitations, it is desirable to have a range of complementary techniques available to identify and locate crystals. Ideally, a given technique should not cause sample damage, but sometimes it is necessary to use techniques where damage can only be minimized. For extreme circumstances, the act of probing location may be coincident with collecting X-ray diffraction data. Future challenges and directions are also discussed.




Becker, M., Kissick, D. J., & Ogata, C. M. (2017). Locating and visualizing crystals for X-ray diffraction experiments. In Methods in Molecular Biology (Vol. 1607, pp. 143–164). Humana Press Inc.

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