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Structure determination using X-ray free-electron laser pulses

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The intense X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers, of only femtoseconds duration, outrun most of the processes that lead to structural degradation in X-ray exposures of macromolecules. Using these sources it is therefore possible to increase the dose to macromolecular crystals by several orders of magnitude higher than usually tolerable in conventional measurements, allowing crystal size to be decreased dramatically in diffraction measurements and without the need to cool the sample. Such pulses lead to the eventual vaporization of the sample, which has required a measurement approach, called serial crystallography, of consolidating snapshot diffraction patterns of many individual crystals. This in turn has further separated the connection between dose and obtainable diffraction information, with the only requirement from a single pattern being that to give enough information to place it, in three-dimensional reciprocal space, in relation to other patterns. Millions of extremely weak patterns can be collected and combined in this way, requiring methods to rapidly replenish the sample into the beam while generating the lowest possible background. The method is suited to time-resolved measurements over timescales below 1 ps to several seconds, and opens new opportunities for phasing. Some straightforward considerations of achievable signal levels are discussed and compared with a wide variety of recent experiments carried out at XFEL, synchrotron, and even laboratory sources, to discuss the capabilities of these new approaches and give some perspectives on their further development.




Chapman, H. N. (2017). Structure determination using X-ray free-electron laser pulses. In Methods in Molecular Biology (Vol. 1607, pp. 295–324). Humana Press Inc.

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