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1.  Enabling X-ray free electron laser crystallography for challenging biological systems from a limited number of crystals 
eLife  null;4:e05421.
There is considerable potential for X-ray free electron lasers (XFELs) to enable determination of macromolecular crystal structures that are difficult to solve using current synchrotron sources. Prior XFEL studies often involved the collection of thousands to millions of diffraction images, in part due to limitations of data processing methods. We implemented a data processing system based on classical post-refinement techniques, adapted to specific properties of XFEL diffraction data. When applied to XFEL data from three different proteins collected using various sample delivery systems and XFEL beam parameters, our method improved the quality of the diffraction data as well as the resulting refined atomic models and electron density maps. Moreover, the number of observations for a reflection necessary to assemble an accurate data set could be reduced to a few observations. These developments will help expand the applicability of XFEL crystallography to challenging biological systems, including cases where sample is limited.
eLife digest
Large biological molecules (or macromolecules) have intricate three-dimensional structures. X-ray crystallography is a technique that is commonly used to determine these structures and involves directing a beam of X-rays at a crystal that was grown from the macromolecule of interest. The macromolecules in the crystal scatter the X-rays to produce a diffraction pattern, and the crystal is rotated to provide further diffraction images. It is then possible to work backwards from these images and elucidate the structure of the macromolecule in three dimensions.
X-ray beams are powerful enough to damage crystals, and scientists are developing new approaches to overcome this problem. One recent development uses ‘X-ray free electron lasers’ to circumvent the damage caused to crystals. However, early applications of this approach required many crystals and thousands to millions of diffraction patterns to be collected—largely because methods to process the diffraction data were far from optimal.
Uervirojnangkoorn et al. have now developed a new data-processing procedure that is specifically designed for diffraction data obtained using X-ray free electron lasers. This method was applied to diffraction data collected from crystals of three different macromolecules (which in this case were three different proteins). For all three, the new method required many fewer diffraction images to determine the structure, and in one case revealed more details about the structure than the existing methods.
This new method is now expected to allow a wider range of macromolecules to be studied using crystallography with X-ray free electron lasers, including cases where very few crystals are available.
PMCID: PMC4397907  PMID: 25781634
X-ray crystallography; free electron laser; data processing; none
2.  X-Ray Structure determination of the Glycine Cleavage System Protein H of Mycobacterium tuberculosis Using An Inverse Compton Synchrotron X-Ray Source 
Structural genomics discovery projects require ready access to both X-ray and NMR instrumentation which support the collection of experimental data needed to solve large numbers of novel protein structures. The most productive X-ray crystal structure determination laboratories make extensive frequent use of tunable synchrotron X-ray light to solve novel structures by anomalous diffraction methods. This requires that frozen cryo-protected crystals be shipped to large government-run synchrotron facilities for data collection. In an effort to eliminate the need to ship crystals for data collection, we have developed the first laboratory-scale synchrotron light source capable of performing many of the state-of-the-art synchrotron applications in X-ray science. This Compact Light Source is a first-in-class device that uses inverse Compton scattering to generate X-rays of sufficient flux, tunable wavelength and beam size to allow high-resolution X-ray diffraction data collection from protein crystals. We report on benchmarking tests of X-ray diffraction data collection with hen egg white lysozyme, and the successful high-resolution X-ray structure determination of the Glycine cleavage system protein H from Mycobacterium tuberculosis using diffraction data collected with the Compact Light Source X-ray beam.
PMCID: PMC2939714  PMID: 20364333
3.  Optimal fine ϕ-slicing for single-photon-counting pixel detectors 
Fine ϕ-slicing substantially improves scaling statistics and anomalous signal for diffraction data collection with hybrid pixel detectors.
The data-collection parameters used in a macromolecular diffraction experiment have a strong impact on data quality. A careful choice of parameters leads to better data and can make the difference between success and failure in phasing attempts, and will also result in a more accurate atomic model. The selection of parameters has to account for the application of the data in various phasing methods or high-resolution refinement. Furthermore, experimental factors such as crystal characteristics, available experiment time and the properties of the X-ray source and detector have to be considered. For many years, CCD detectors have been the prevalent type of detectors used in macromolecular crystallography. Recently, hybrid pixel X-ray detectors that operate in single-photon-counting mode have become available. These detectors have fundamentally different characteristics compared with CCD detectors and different data-collection strategies should be applied. Fine ϕ-slicing is a strategy that is particularly well suited to hybrid pixel detectors because of the fast readout time and the absence of readout noise. A large number of data sets were systematically collected from crystals of four different proteins in order to investigate the benefit of fine ϕ-­slicing on data quality with a noise-free detector. The results show that fine ϕ-slicing can substantially improve scaling statistics and anomalous signal provided that the rotation angle is comparable to half the crystal mosaicity.
PMCID: PMC3245722  PMID: 22194332
diffraction data collection; data-collection strategies; detectors; hybrid pixel detector; single-photon counting
4.  Structure of the Archaeoglobus fulgidus orphan ORF AF1382 determined by sulfur SAD from a moderately diffracting crystal 
The crystal structure of the 11.14 kDa orphan ORF 1382 from Archaeoglobus fulgidus (AF1382) has been determined by sulfur SAD phasing using data collected from a moderately diffracting crystal and 1.9 Å synchrotron X-rays.
The crystal structure of the 11.14 kDa orphan ORF 1382 from Archaeoglobus fulgidus (AF1382) has been determined by sulfur SAD phasing using a moderately diffracting crystal and 1.9 Å wavelength synchrotron X-rays. AF1382 was selected as a structural genomics target by the Southeast Collaboratory for Structural Genomics (SECSG) since sequence analyses showed that it did not belong to the Pfam-A database and thus could represent a novel fold. The structure was determined by exploiting longer wavelength X-rays and data redundancy to increase the anomalous signal in the data. AF1382 is a 95-­residue protein containing five S atoms associated with four methionine residues and a single cysteine residue that yields a calculated Bijvoet ratio (ΔF anom/F) of 1.39% for 1.9 Å wavelength X-rays. Coupled with an average Bijvoet redundancy of 25 (two 360° data sets), this produced an excellent electron-density map that allowed 69 of the 95 residues to be automatically fitted. The S-SAD model was then manually completed and refined (R = 23.2%, R free = 26.8%) to 2.3 Å resolution (PDB entry 3o3k). High-resolution data were subsequently collected from a better diffracting crystal using 0.97 Å wavelength synchrotron X-rays and the S-SAD model was refined (R = 17.9%, R free = 21.4%) to 1.85 Å resolution (PDB entry 3ov8). AF1382 has a winged-helix–turn–helix structure common to many DNA-binding proteins and most closely resembles the N-terminal domain (residues 1–82) of the Rio2 kinase from A. fulgidus, which has been shown to bind DNA, and a number of MarR-family transcriptional regulators, suggesting a similar DNA-binding function for AF1382. The analysis also points out the advantage gained from carrying out data reduction and structure determination on-site while the crystal is still available for further data collection.
PMCID: PMC3489105  PMID: 22948926
AF1382; orphan ORFs; sulfur SAD; Archaeoglobus fulgidus
5.  Robust structural analysis of native biological macromolecules from multi-crystal anomalous diffraction data 
Anomalous diffraction signals from typical native macromolecules are very weak, frustrating their use in structure determination. Here, native SAD procedures are described for enhancing the signal to noise in anomalous diffraction by using multiple crystals are described. Five applications demonstrate that truly routine structure determination is possible without the need for heavy atoms.
Structure determinations for biological macromolecules that have no known structural antecedents typically involve the incorporation of heavier atoms than those found natively in biological molecules. Currently, selenomethionyl proteins analyzed using single- or multi-wavelength anomalous diffraction (SAD or MAD) data predominate for such de novo analyses. Naturally occurring metal ions such as zinc or iron often suffice in MAD or SAD experiments, and sulfur SAD has been an option since it was first demonstrated using crambin 30 years ago; however, SAD analyses of structures containing only light atoms (Z max ≤ 20) have not been common. Here, robust procedures for enhancing the signal to noise in measurements of anomalous diffraction by combining data collected from several crystals at a lower than usual X-ray energy are described. This multi-crystal native SAD method was applied in five structure determinations, using between five and 13 crystals to determine substructures of between four and 52 anomalous scatterers (Z ≤ 20) and then the full structures ranging from 127 to 1200 ordered residues per asymmetric unit at resolutions from 2.3 to 2.8 Å. Tests were devised to assure that all of the crystals used were statistically equivalent. Elemental identities for Ca, Cl, S, P and Mg were proven by f′′ scattering-factor refinements. The procedures are robust, indicating that truly routine structure determination of typical native macromolecules is realised. Synchrotron beamlines that are optimized for low-energy X-ray diffraction measurements will facilitate such direct structural analysis.
PMCID: PMC3689535  PMID: 23793158
anomalous scattering; multiple crystals; phase determination; sulfur SAD
6.  Exploiting the anisotropy of anomalous scattering boosts the phasing power of SAD and MAD experiments 
It is shown that the anisotropy of anomalous scattering (AAS) is a significant and ubiquitous effect in data sets collected at an absorption edge and that its exploitation can substantially enhance the phasing power of single- or multi-wavelength anomalous diffraction. The improvements in the phases are typically of the same order of magnitude as those obtained in a conventional approach by adding a second-wavelength data set to a SAD experiment.
The X-ray polarization anisotropy of anomalous scattering in crystals of brominated nucleic acids and selenated proteins is shown to have significant effects on the diffraction data collected at an absorption edge. For conventionally collected single- or multi-wavelength anomalous diffraction data, the main manifestation of the anisotropy of anomalous scattering is the breakage of the equivalence between symmetry-related reflections, inducing intensity differences between them that can be exploited to yield extra phase information in the structure-solution process. A new formalism for describing the anisotropy of anomalous scattering which allows these effects to be incorporated into the general scheme of experimental phasing methods using an extended Harker construction is introduced. This requires a paradigm shift in the data-processing strategy, since the usual separation of the data-merging and phasing steps is abandoned. The data are kept unmerged down to the Harker construction, where the symmetry-breaking is explicitly modelled and refined and becomes a source of supplementary phase information. These ideas have been implemented in the phasing program SHARP. Refinements using actual data show that exploitation of the anisotropy of anomalous scattering can deliver substantial extra phasing power compared with conventional approaches using the same raw data. Examples are given that show improvements in the phases which are typically of the same order of magnitude as those obtained in a conventional approach by adding a second-wavelength data set to a SAD experiment. It is argued that such gains, which come essentially for free, i.e. without the collection of new data, are highly significant, since radiation damage can frequently preclude the collection of a second-wavelength data set. Finally, further developments in synchrotron instrumentation and in the design of data-collection strategies that could help to maximize these gains are outlined.
PMCID: PMC2467528  PMID: 18566507
anisotropy of anomalous scattering; phasing; SAD; MAD; polarized resonant diffraction
7.  Automatic processing of macromolecular crystallography X-ray diffraction data at the ESRF 
Journal of Applied Crystallography  2013;46(Pt 3):804-810.
A system for the automatic reduction of single- and multi-position macromolecular crystallography data is presented.
The development of automated high-intensity macromolecular crystallography (MX) beamlines at synchrotron facilities has resulted in a remarkable increase in sample throughput. Developments in X-ray detector technology now mean that complete X-ray diffraction datasets can be collected in less than one minute. Such high-speed collection, and the volumes of data that it produces, often make it difficult for even the most experienced users to cope with the deluge. However, the careful reduction of data during experimental sessions is often necessary for the success of a particular project or as an aid in decision making for subsequent experiments. Automated data reduction pipelines provide a fast and reliable alternative to user-initiated processing at the beamline. In order to provide such a pipeline for the MX user community of the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), a system for the rapid automatic processing of MX diffraction data from single and multiple positions on a single or multiple crystals has been developed. Standard integration and data analysis programs have been incorporated into the ESRF data collection, storage and computing environment, with the final results stored and displayed in an intuitive manner in the ISPyB (information system for protein crystallography beamlines) database, from which they are also available for download. In some cases, experimental phase information can be automatically determined from the processed data. Here, the system is described in detail.
PMCID: PMC3654316  PMID: 23682196
automation; data processing; macromolecular crystallography; computer programs
8.  Three-dimensional electron crystallography of protein microcrystals 
eLife  2013;2:e01345.
We demonstrate that it is feasible to determine high-resolution protein structures by electron crystallography of three-dimensional crystals in an electron cryo-microscope (CryoEM). Lysozyme microcrystals were frozen on an electron microscopy grid, and electron diffraction data collected to 1.7 Å resolution. We developed a data collection protocol to collect a full-tilt series in electron diffraction to atomic resolution. A single tilt series contains up to 90 individual diffraction patterns collected from a single crystal with tilt angle increment of 0.1–1° and a total accumulated electron dose less than 10 electrons per angstrom squared. We indexed the data from three crystals and used them for structure determination of lysozyme by molecular replacement followed by crystallographic refinement to 2.9 Å resolution. This proof of principle paves the way for the implementation of a new technique, which we name ‘MicroED’, that may have wide applicability in structural biology.
eLife digest
X-ray crystallography has been used to work out the atomic structure of a large number of proteins. In a typical X-ray crystallography experiment, a beam of X-rays is directed at a protein crystal, which scatters some of the X-ray photons to produce a diffraction pattern. The crystal is then rotated through a small angle and another diffraction pattern is recorded. Finally, after this process has been repeated enough times, it is possible to work backwards from the diffraction patterns to figure out the structure of the protein.
The crystals used for X-ray crystallography must be large to withstand the damage caused by repeated exposure to the X-ray beam. However, some proteins do not form crystals at all, and others only form small crystals. It is possible to overcome this problem by using extremely short pulses of X-rays, but this requires a very large number of small crystals and ultrashort X-ray pulses are only available at a handful of research centers around the world. There is, therefore, a need for other approaches that can determine the structure of proteins that only form small crystals.
Electron crystallography is similar to X-ray crystallography in that a protein crystal scatters a beam to produce a diffraction pattern. However, the interactions between the electrons in the beam and the crystal are much stronger than those between the X-ray photons and the crystal. This means that meaningful amounts of data can be collected from much smaller crystals. However, it is normally only possible to collect one diffraction pattern from each crystal because of beam induced damage. Researchers have developed methods to merge the diffraction patterns produced by hundreds of small crystals, but to date these techniques have only worked with very thin two-dimensional crystals that contain only one layer of the protein of interest.
Now Shi et al. report a new approach to electron crystallography that works with very small three-dimensional crystals. Called MicroED, this technique involves placing the crystal in a transmission electron cryo-microscope, which is a fairly standard piece of equipment in many laboratories. The normal ‘low-dose’ electron beam in one of these microscopes would normally damage the crystal after a single diffraction pattern had been collected. However, Shi et al. realized that it was possible to obtain diffraction patterns without severely damaging the crystal if they dramatically reduced the normal low-dose electron beam. By reducing the electron dose by a factor of 200, it was possible to collect up to 90 diffraction patterns from the same, very small, three-dimensional crystal, and then—similar to what happens in X-ray crystallography—work backwards to figure out the structure of the protein. Shi et al. demonstrated the feasibility of the MicroED approach by using it to determine the structure of lysozyme, which is widely used as a test protein in crystallography, with a resolution of 2.9 Å. This proof-of principle study paves the way for crystallographers to study protein that cannot be studied with existing techniques.
PMCID: PMC3831942  PMID: 24252878
electron crystallography; electron diffraction; electron cryomicroscopy (cryo-EM); microED; protein structure; microcrystals; None
9.  Development of a shutterless continuous rotation method using an X-ray CMOS detector for protein crystallography 
Journal of Applied Crystallography  2009;42(Pt 6):1165-1175.
A shutterless continuous rotation method using an X-ray complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) detector has been developed for high-speed, precise data collection in protein crystallography. The new method and detector were applied to the structure determination of three proteins by multi- and single-wavelength anomalous diffraction phasing and have thereby been proved to be applicable in protein crystallography.
A new shutterless continuous rotation method using an X-ray complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) detector has been developed for high-speed, precise data collection in protein crystallography. The principle of operation and the basic performance of the X-ray CMOS detector (Hamamatsu Photonics KK C10158DK) have been shown to be appropriate to the shutterless continuous rotation method. The data quality of the continuous rotation method is comparable to that of the conventional oscillation method using a CCD detector and, furthermore, the combination with fine ϕ slicing improves the data accuracy without increasing the data-collection time. The new method is more sensitive to diffraction intensity because of the narrow dynamic range of the CMOS detector. However, the strong diffraction spots were found to be precisely measured by recording them on successive multiple images by selecting an adequate rotation step. The new method has been used to successfully determine three protein structures by multi- and single-wavelength anomalous diffraction phasing and has thereby been proved applicable in protein crystallography. The apparatus and method may become a powerful tool at synchrotron protein crystallography beamlines with important potential across a wide range of X-ray wavelengths.
PMCID: PMC3246825  PMID: 22477775
protein crystallography; shutterless continuous rotation method; X-ray CMOS detectors; X-ray wavelength capabilities
10.  X-CHIP: an integrated platform for high-throughput protein crystallization and on-the-chip X-ray diffraction data collection 
The X-CHIP (X-ray Crystallography High-throughput Integrated Platform) is a novel microchip that has been developed to combine multiple steps of the crystallographic pipeline from crystallization to diffraction data collection on a single device to streamline the entire process.
The X-CHIP (X-ray Crystallization High-throughput Integrated Platform) is a novel microchip that has been developed to combine multiple steps of the crystallographic pipeline from crystallization to diffraction data collection on a single device to streamline the entire process. The system has been designed for crystallization condition screening, visual crystal inspection, initial X-ray screening and data collection in a high-throughput fashion. X-ray diffraction data acquisition can be performed directly on-the-chip at room temperature using an in situ approach. The capabilities of the chip eliminate the necessity for manual crystal handling and cryoprotection of crystal samples, while allowing data collection from multiple crystals in the same drop. This technology would be especially beneficial for projects with large volumes of data, such as protein-complex studies and fragment-based screening. The platform employs hydrophilic and hydrophobic concentric ring surfaces on a miniature plate transparent to visible light and X-rays to create a well defined and stable microbatch crystallization environment. The results of crystallization and data-collection experiments demonstrate that high-quality well diffracting crystals can be grown and high-resolution diffraction data sets can be collected using this technology. Furthermore, the quality of a single-wavelength anomalous dispersion data set collected with the X-CHIP at room temperature was sufficient to generate interpretable electron-density maps. This technology is highly resource-efficient owing to the use of nanolitre-scale drop volumes. It does not require any modification for most in-house and synchrotron beamline systems and offers a promising opportunity for full automation of the X-ray structure-determination process.
PMCID: PMC3107051  PMID: 21636893
protein crystallization devices; in situ X-ray analysis; crystallization; crystal visual inspection; diffraction data collection
11.  Sub-atomic resolution X-ray crystallography and neutron crystallography: promise, challenges and potential 
IUCrJ  2015;2(Pt 4):464-474.
Neutron crystallography and sub-atomic X-ray crystallography complement each other in defining hydrogen positions in macromolecules. Significant advances have been made but much effort is still required if neutron crystallography is to become a mainstream activity.
The International Year of Crystallography saw the number of macromolecular structures deposited in the Protein Data Bank cross the 100000 mark, with more than 90000 of these provided by X-ray crystallography. The number of X-ray structures determined to sub-atomic resolution (i.e. ≤1 Å) has passed 600 and this is likely to continue to grow rapidly with diffraction-limited synchrotron radiation sources such as MAX-IV (Sweden) and Sirius (Brazil) under construction. A dozen X-ray structures have been deposited to ultra-high resolution (i.e. ≤0.7 Å), for which precise electron density can be exploited to obtain charge density and provide information on the bonding character of catalytic or electron transfer sites. Although the development of neutron macromolecular crystallography over the years has been far less pronounced, and its application much less widespread, the availability of new and improved instrumentation, combined with dedicated deuteration facilities, are beginning to transform the field. Of the 83 macromolecular structures deposited with neutron diffraction data, more than half (49/83, 59%) were released since 2010. Sub-mm3 crystals are now regularly being used for data collection, structures have been determined to atomic resolution for a few small proteins, and much larger unit-cell systems (cell edges >100 Å) are being successfully studied. While some details relating to H-atom positions are tractable with X-ray crystallography at sub-atomic resolution, the mobility of certain H atoms precludes them from being located. In addition, highly polarized H atoms and protons (H+) remain invisible with X-rays. Moreover, the majority of X-ray structures are determined from cryo-cooled crystals at 100 K, and, although radiation damage can be strongly controlled, especially since the advent of shutterless fast detectors, and by using limited doses and crystal translation at micro-focus beams, radiation damage can still take place. Neutron crystallography therefore remains the only approach where diffraction data can be collected at room temperature without radiation damage issues and the only approach to locate mobile or highly polarized H atoms and protons. Here a review of the current status of sub-atomic X-ray and neutron macromolecular crystallography is given and future prospects for combined approaches are outlined. New results from two metalloproteins, copper nitrite reductase and cytochrome c′, are also included, which illustrate the type of information that can be obtained from sub-atomic-resolution (∼0.8 Å) X-ray structures, while also highlighting the need for complementary neutron studies that can provide details of H atoms not provided by X-ray crystallography.
PMCID: PMC4491318  PMID: 26175905
neutron; X-ray; hydrogen; proton; protonation states; radiation damage; redox biology; proton coupling; electron transfer; X-ray laser; XFEL
12.  Expression, purification, crystallization and preliminary X-ray crystallographic analysis of Enpp1 
The extracellular region of mouse Enpp1 was expressed, purified and crystallized. An X-ray diffraction data set was collected to 3.0 Å resolution by employing a helical data-collection strategy involving a micro-focus synchrotron beam.
Enpp1 is an extracellular membrane-bound glycoprotein that regulates bone mineralization by hydrolyzing ATP to generate pyrophosphate. The extracellular region of mouse Enpp1 was expressed in HEK293S GnT1− cells, purified using the TARGET tag/P20.1-Sepharose system and crystallized. An X-­ray diffraction data set was collected to 3.0 Å resolution. The crystal belonged to space group P31, with unit-cell parameters a = b = 105.3, c = 173.7 Å. A single-wavelength anomalous dispersion (SAD) data set was also collected to 2.7 Å resolution using a selenomethionine-labelled crystal. The experimental phases determined by the SAD method produced an interpretable electron-density map.
PMCID: PMC3388920  PMID: 22750863
13.  Crystallization of the pneumococcal autolysin LytC: in-house phasing using novel lanthanide complexes 
The complete pneumococcal autolysin LytC has been crystallized by the hanging-drop vapor-diffusion method. A SAD data set has been collected in-house from a Gd derivative up to 2.6 Å resolution.
LytC, one of the major autolysins from the human pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae, has been crystallized as needles by the hanging-drop technique using 10%(w/v) PEG 3350 as precipitant and 10 mM HEPES pH 7.5. LytC crystals were quickly soaked in mother liquor containing 2 mM of the complex Gd-HPDO3A to produce derivatized crystals (LytCGd-HPDO3A). Both native LytC and isomorphous LytCGd-HPDO3A crystals were flash-cooled in a nitrogen flow at 120 K prior to X-ray data collection using an in-house Enraf–Nonius rotating-anode generator (λ = 1.5418 Å) and a MAR345 imaging-plate detector. In both cases, good-quality diffraction patterns were obtained at high resolution. LytCGd-HPDO3A crystals allowed the collection of a SAD X-ray data set to 2.6 Å resolution indexed in terms of a P21 monoclinic unit cell with parameters a = 59.37, b = 67.16, c = 78.85 Å, β = 105.69°. The anomalous Patterson map allowed the identification of one heavy-atom binding site, which was sufficient for the calculation of an interpretable anomalous map at 2.6 Å resolution.
PMCID: PMC2852341  PMID: 20383019
autolysins; LytC; Gd-HPDO3A
14.  Modelling dynamics in protein crystal structures by ensemble refinement 
eLife  2012;1:e00311.
Single-structure models derived from X-ray data do not adequately account for the inherent, functionally important dynamics of protein molecules. We generated ensembles of structures by time-averaged refinement, where local molecular vibrations were sampled by molecular-dynamics (MD) simulation whilst global disorder was partitioned into an underlying overall translation–libration–screw (TLS) model. Modeling of 20 protein datasets at 1.1–3.1 Å resolution reduced cross-validated Rfree values by 0.3–4.9%, indicating that ensemble models fit the X-ray data better than single structures. The ensembles revealed that, while most proteins display a well-ordered core, some proteins exhibit a ‘molten core’ likely supporting functionally important dynamics in ligand binding, enzyme activity and protomer assembly. Order–disorder changes in HIV protease indicate a mechanism of entropy compensation for ordering the catalytic residues upon ligand binding by disordering specific core residues. Thus, ensemble refinement extracts dynamical details from the X-ray data that allow a more comprehensive understanding of structure–dynamics–function relationships.
eLife digest
It has been clear since the early days of structural biology in the late 1950s that proteins and other biomolecules are continually changing shape, and that these changes have an important influence on both the structure and function of the molecules. X-ray diffraction can provide detailed information about the structure of a protein, but only limited information about how its structure fluctuates over time. Detailed information about the dynamic behaviour of proteins is essential for a proper understanding of a variety of processes, including catalysis, ligand binding and protein–protein interactions, and could also prove useful in drug design.
Currently most of the X-ray crystal structures in the Protein Data Bank are ‘snap-shots’ with limited or no information about protein dynamics. However, X-ray diffraction patterns are affected by the dynamics of the protein, and also by distortions of the crystal lattice, so three-dimensional (3D) models of proteins ought to take these phenomena into account. Molecular-dynamics (MD) computer simulations transform 3D structures into 4D ‘molecular movies’ by predicting the movement of individual atoms.
Combining MD simulations with crystallographic data has the potential to produce more realistic ensemble models of proteins in which the atomic fluctuations are represented by multiple structures within the ensemble. Moreover, in addition to improved structural information, this process—which is called ensemble refinement—can provide dynamical information about the protein. Earlier attempts to do this ran into problems because the number of model parameters needed was greater than the number of observed data points. Burnley et al. now overcome this problem by modelling local molecular vibrations with MD simulations and, at the same time, using a course-grain model to describe global disorder of longer length scales.
Ensemble refinement of high-resolution X-ray diffraction datasets for 20 different proteins from the Protein Data Bank produced a better fit to the data than single structures for all 20 proteins. Ensemble refinement also revealed that 3 of the 20 proteins had a ‘molten core’, rather than the well-ordered residues core found in most proteins: this is likely to be important in various biological functions including ligand binding, filament formation and enzymatic function. Burnley et al. also showed that a HIV enzyme underwent an order–disorder transition that is likely to influence how this enzyme works, and that similar transitions might influence the interactions between the small-molecule drug Imatinib (also known as Gleevec) and the enzymes it targets. Ensemble refinement could be applied to the majority of crystallography data currently being collected, or collected in the past, so further insights into the properties and interactions of a variety of proteins and other biomolecules can be expected.
PMCID: PMC3524795  PMID: 23251785
protein; crystallography; structure; function; dynamics; None
15.  Acoustic methods for high-throughput protein crystal mounting at next-generation macromolecular crystallographic beamlines 
Journal of Synchrotron Radiation  2013;20(Pt 5):805-808.
A new system has been developed and tested at the National Synchrotron Light Source with the goal of enabling rapid protein crystal mounting at next-generation macromolecular crystallographic beamlines. The system uses an acoustic ejector to deposit nanoliter-volume droplets containing crystals onto an X-ray transparent conveyor belt, which then moves the droplets into position for cryo-cooling and data collection. The acoustic ejector is capable of operating at a rate of several hundred droplet ejections per second.
To take full advantage of advanced data collection techniques and high beam flux at next-generation macromolecular crystallography beamlines, rapid and reliable methods will be needed to mount and align many samples per second. One approach is to use an acoustic ejector to eject crystal-containing droplets onto a solid X-ray transparent surface, which can then be positioned and rotated for data collection. Proof-of-concept experiments were conducted at the National Synchrotron Light Source on thermolysin crystals acoustically ejected onto a polyimide ‘conveyor belt’. Small wedges of data were collected on each crystal, and a complete dataset was assembled from a well diffracting subset of these crystals. Future developments and implementation will focus on achieving ejection and translation of single droplets at a rate of over one hundred per second.
PMCID: PMC3747951  PMID: 23955046
acoustic droplet ejection; conveyor belt; crystal mounting; high throughput; X-ray diffraction; macromolecular crystallography
16.  Superoxide reductase from the syphilis spirochete Treponema pallidum: crystallization and structure determination using soft X-rays 
Superoxide reductase is a non-haem iron-containing protein involved in resistance to oxidative stress. The oxidized form of the protein has been crystallized and its three-dimensional structure solved. A highly redundant X-ray diffraction data set was collected on a rotating-anode generator using Cu Kα X-ray radiation. Four Fe atoms were located in the asymmetric unit corresponding to four protein molecules arranged as a dimer of homodimers.
Superoxide reductase is a 14 kDa metalloprotein containing a catalytic non-haem iron centre [Fe(His)4Cys]. It is involved in defence mechanisms against oxygen toxicity, scavenging superoxide radicals from the cell. The oxidized form of Treponema pallidum superoxide reductase was crystallized in the presence of polyethylene glycol and magnesium chloride. Two crystal forms were obtained depending on the oxidizing agents used after purification: crystals grown in the presence of K3Fe(CN)6 belonged to space group P21 (unit-cell parameters a = 60.3, b = 59.9, c = 64.8 Å, β = 106.9°) and diffracted beyond 1.60 Å resolution, while crystals grown in the presence of Na2IrCl6 belonged to space group C2 (a = 119.4, b = 60.1, c = 65.6 Å, β = 104.9°) and diffracted beyond 1.55 Å. A highly redundant X-ray diffraction data set from the C2 crystal form collected on a copper rotating-anode generator (λ = 1.542 Å) clearly defined the positions of the four Fe atoms present in the asymmetric unit by SAD methods. A MAD experiment at the iron absorption edge confirmed the positions of the previously determined iron sites and provided better phases for model building and refinement. Molecular replacement using the P21 data set was successful using a preliminary trace as a search model. A similar arrangement of the four protein molecules could be observed.
PMCID: PMC1978137  PMID: 16511209
superoxide reductase; Treponema pallidum; syphilis; oxidative stress; soft X-rays
17.  In meso in situ serial X-ray crystallography of soluble and membrane proteins 
A method for performing high-throughput in situ serial X-ray crystallography with soluble and membrane proteins in the lipid cubic phase is described. It works with microgram quantities of protein and lipid (and ligand when present) and is compatible with the most demanding sulfur SAD phasing.
The lipid cubic phase (LCP) continues to grow in popularity as a medium in which to generate crystals of membrane (and soluble) proteins for high-resolution X-ray crystallographic structure determination. To date, the PDB includes 227 records attributed to the LCP or in meso method. Among the listings are some of the highest profile membrane proteins, including the β2-adrenoreceptor–Gs protein complex that figured in the award of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Lefkowitz and Kobilka. The most successful in meso protocol to date uses glass sandwich crystallization plates. Despite their many advantages, glass plates are challenging to harvest crystals from. However, performing in situ X-ray diffraction measurements with these plates is not practical. Here, an alternative approach is described that provides many of the advantages of glass plates and is compatible with high-throughput in situ measurements. The novel in meso in situ serial crystallography (IMISX) method introduced here has been demonstrated with AlgE and PepT (alginate and peptide transporters, respectively) as model integral membrane proteins and with lysozyme as a test soluble protein. Structures were solved by molecular replacement and by experimental phasing using bromine SAD and native sulfur SAD methods to resolutions ranging from 1.8 to 2.8 Å using single-digit microgram quantities of protein. That sulfur SAD phasing worked is testament to the exceptional quality of the IMISX diffraction data. The IMISX method is compatible with readily available, inexpensive materials and equipment, is simple to implement and is compatible with high-throughput in situ serial data collection at macromolecular crystallography synchrotron beamlines worldwide. Because of its simplicity and effectiveness, the IMISX approach is likely to supplant existing in meso crystallization protocols. It should prove particularly attractive in the area of ligand screening for drug discovery and development.
PMCID: PMC4461204  PMID: 26057665
AlgE; bromine SAD; experimental phasing; in meso; in situ; lipid cubic phase; membrane protein; mesophase; PepTSt; sulfur SAD; serial crystallography
18.  Room-temperature macromolecular serial crystallography using synchrotron radiation 
IUCrJ  2014;1(Pt 4):204-212.
The room-temperature structure of lysozyme is determined using 40000 individual diffraction patterns from micro-crystals flowing in liquid suspension across a synchrotron microfocus beamline.
A new approach for collecting data from many hundreds of thousands of microcrystals using X-ray pulses from a free-electron laser has recently been developed. Referred to as serial crystallography, diffraction patterns are recorded at a constant rate as a suspension of protein crystals flows across the path of an X-ray beam. Events that by chance contain single-crystal diffraction patterns are retained, then indexed and merged to form a three-dimensional set of reflection intensities for structure determination. This approach relies upon several innovations: an intense X-ray beam; a fast detector system; a means to rapidly flow a suspension of crystals across the X-ray beam; and the computational infrastructure to process the large volume of data. Originally conceived for radiation-damage-free measurements with ultrafast X-ray pulses, the same methods can be employed with synchrotron radiation. As in powder diffraction, the averaging of thousands of observations per Bragg peak may improve the ratio of signal to noise of low-dose exposures. Here, it is shown that this paradigm can be implemented for room-temperature data collection using synchrotron radiation and exposure times of less than 3 ms. Using lysozyme microcrystals as a model system, over 40 000 single-crystal diffraction patterns were obtained and merged to produce a structural model that could be refined to 2.1 Å resolution. The resulting electron density is in excellent agreement with that obtained using standard X-ray data collection techniques. With further improvements the method is well suited for even shorter exposures at future and upgraded synchrotron radiation facilities that may deliver beams with 1000 times higher brightness than they currently produce.
PMCID: PMC4107920  PMID: 25075341
serial crystallography; room-temperature protein crystallography; radiation damage; CrystFEL; microfocus beamline
19.  PredPPCrys: Accurate Prediction of Sequence Cloning, Protein Production, Purification and Crystallization Propensity from Protein Sequences Using Multi-Step Heterogeneous Feature Fusion and Selection 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(8):e105902.
X-ray crystallography is the primary approach to solve the three-dimensional structure of a protein. However, a major bottleneck of this method is the failure of multi-step experimental procedures to yield diffraction-quality crystals, including sequence cloning, protein material production, purification, crystallization and ultimately, structural determination. Accordingly, prediction of the propensity of a protein to successfully undergo these experimental procedures based on the protein sequence may help narrow down laborious experimental efforts and facilitate target selection. A number of bioinformatics methods based on protein sequence information have been developed for this purpose. However, our knowledge on the important determinants of propensity for a protein sequence to produce high diffraction-quality crystals remains largely incomplete. In practice, most of the existing methods display poorer performance when evaluated on larger and updated datasets. To address this problem, we constructed an up-to-date dataset as the benchmark, and subsequently developed a new approach termed ‘PredPPCrys’ using the support vector machine (SVM). Using a comprehensive set of multifaceted sequence-derived features in combination with a novel multi-step feature selection strategy, we identified and characterized the relative importance and contribution of each feature type to the prediction performance of five individual experimental steps required for successful crystallization. The resulting optimal candidate features were used as inputs to build the first-level SVM predictor (PredPPCrys I). Next, prediction outputs of PredPPCrys I were used as the input to build second-level SVM classifiers (PredPPCrys II), which led to significantly enhanced prediction performance. Benchmarking experiments indicated that our PredPPCrys method outperforms most existing procedures on both up-to-date and previous datasets. In addition, the predicted crystallization targets of currently non-crystallizable proteins were provided as compendium data, which are anticipated to facilitate target selection and design for the worldwide structural genomics consortium. PredPPCrys is freely available at
PMCID: PMC4141844  PMID: 25148528
20.  A revised partiality model and post-refinement algorithm for X-ray free-electron laser data 
An updated partiality model and post-refinement algorithm for XFEL snapshot diffraction data is presented and confirmed by observing anomalous density for S atoms at an X-ray wavelength of 1.3 Å.
Research towards using X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) data to solve structures using experimental phasing methods such as sulfur single-wavelength anomalous dispersion (SAD) has been hampered by shortcomings in the diffraction models for X-ray diffraction from FELs. Owing to errors in the orientation matrix and overly simple partiality models, researchers have required large numbers of images to converge to reliable estimates for the structure-factor amplitudes, which may not be feasible for all biological systems. Here, data for cytoplasmic polyhedrosis virus type 17 (CPV17) collected at 1.3 Å wavelength at the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) are revisited. A previously published definition of a partiality model for reflections illuminated by self-amplified spontaneous emission (SASE) pulses is built upon, which defines a fraction between 0 and 1 based on the intersection of a reflection with a spread of Ewald spheres modelled by a super-Gaussian wavelength distribution in the X-ray beam. A method of post-refinement to refine the parameters of this model is suggested. This has generated a merged data set with an overall discrepancy (by calculating the R split value) of 3.15% to 1.46 Å resolution from a 7225-image data set. The atomic numbers of C, N and O atoms in the structure are distinguishable in the electron-density map. There are 13 S atoms within the 237 residues of CPV17, excluding the initial disordered methionine. These only possess 0.42 anomalous scattering electrons each at 1.3 Å wavelength, but the 12 that have single predominant positions are easily detectable in the anomalous difference Fourier map. It is hoped that these improvements will lead towards XFEL experimental phase determination and structure determination by sulfur SAD and will generally increase the utility of the method for difficult cases.
PMCID: PMC4461207  PMID: 26057680
post-refinement; free-electron laser; partiality
21.  Multi-crystal anomalous diffraction for low-resolution macromolecular phasing 
Anomalous diffraction signals can be very weak and sensitive to radiation damage. Here, in application to a poorly diffracting (d min of 3.5 Å) and relatively large structure (1456 ordered residues), it is shown that data merged from multiple crystals can support SAD structure determination when no single data set is adequate.
Multiwavelength anomalous diffraction (MAD) and single-wavelength anomalous diffraction (SAD) are the two most commonly used methods for de novo determination of macromolecular structures. Both methods rely on the accurate extraction of anomalous signals; however, because of factors such as poor intrinsic order, radiation damage, inadequate anomalous scatterers, poor diffraction quality and other noise-causing factors, the anomalous signal from a single crystal is not always good enough for structure solution. In this study, procedures for extracting more accurate anomalous signals by merging data from multiple crystals are devised and tested. SAD phasing tests were made with a relatively large (1456 ordered residues) poorly diffracting (d min = 3.5 Å) selenomethionyl protein (20 Se). It is quantified that the anomalous signal, success in substructure determination and accuracy of phases and electron-density maps all improve with an increase in the number of crystals used in merging. Structure solutions are possible when no single crystal can support structural analysis. It is proposed that such multi-crystal strategies may be broadly useful when only weak anomalous signals are available.
PMCID: PMC3016016  PMID: 21206061
anomalous scattering; MAD; multiple crystals; phase determination; SAD
22.  Solvent minimization induces preferential orientation and crystal clustering in serial micro-crystallography on micro-meshes, in situ plates and on a movable crystal conveyor belt 
Journal of Synchrotron Radiation  2014;21(Pt 6):1231-1239.
Strategies are described for optimizing the signal-to-noise of diffraction data, and for combining data from multiple crystals. One challenge that must be overcome is the non-random orientation of crystals with respect to one another and with respect to the surface that supports them.
X-ray diffraction data were obtained at the National Synchrotron Light Source from insulin and lysozyme crystals that were densely deposited on three types of surfaces suitable for serial micro-crystallography: MiTeGen MicroMeshes™, Greiner Bio-One Ltd in situ micro-plates, and a moving kapton crystal conveyor belt that is used to deliver crystals directly into the X-ray beam. 6° wedges of data were taken from ∼100 crystals mounted on each material, and these individual data sets were merged to form nine complete data sets (six from insulin crystals and three from lysozyme crystals). Insulin crystals have a parallelepiped habit with an extended flat face that preferentially aligned with the mounting surfaces, impacting the data collection strategy and the design of the serial crystallography apparatus. Lysozyme crystals had a cuboidal habit and showed no preferential orientation. Preferential orientation occluded regions of reciprocal space when the X-ray beam was incident normal to the data-collection medium surface, requiring a second pass of data collection with the apparatus inclined away from the orthogonal. In addition, crystals measuring less than 20 µm were observed to clump together into clusters of crystals. Clustering required that the X-ray beam be adjusted to match the crystal size to prevent overlapping diffraction patterns. No additional problems were encountered with the serial crystallography strategy of combining small randomly oriented wedges of data from a large number of specimens. High-quality data able to support a realistic molecular replacement solution were readily obtained from both crystal types using all three serial crystallography strategies.
PMCID: PMC4211130  PMID: 25343789
in situ X-ray data collection; crystallography; acoustic droplet ejection; serial crystallography
23.  How good can our beamlines be? 
A repetitive measurement of the same diffraction image allows to judge the performance of a data collection facility.
The accuracy of X-ray diffraction data depends on the properties of the crystalline sample and on the performance of the data-collection facility (synchrotron beamline elements, goniostat, detector etc.). However, it is difficult to evaluate the level of performance of the experimental setup from the quality of data sets collected in rotation mode, as various crystal properties such as mosaicity, non-uniformity and radiation damage affect the measured intensities. A multiple-image experiment, in which several analogous diffraction frames are recorded consecutively at the same crystal orientation, allows minimization of the influence of the sample properties. A series of 100 diffraction images of a thaumatin crystal were measured on the SBC beamline 19BM at the APS (Argonne National Laboratory). The obtained data were analyzed in the context of the performance of the data-collection facility. An objective way to estimate the uncertainties of individual reflections was achieved by analyzing the behavior of reflection intensities in the series of analogous diffraction images. The multiple-image experiment is found to be a simple and adequate method to decompose the random errors from the systematic errors in the data, which helps in judging the performance of a data-collection facility. In particular, displaying the intensity as a function of the frame number allows evaluation of the stability of the beam, the beamline elements and the detector with minimal influence of the crystal properties. Such an experiment permits evaluation of the highest possible data quality potentially achievable at the particular beamline.
PMCID: PMC3447404  PMID: 22993097
diffraction data precision; signal-to-noise ratio; measurement uncertainty; beamline performance
24.  Remote access to crystallography beamlines at SSRL: novel tools for training, education and collaboration 
Journal of Applied Crystallography  2010;43(Pt 5):1261-1270.
The ultimate goal of synchrotron data collection is to obtain the best possible data from the best available crystals, and the combination of automation and remote access at Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) has revolutionized the way in which scientists achieve this goal. This has also seen a change in the way novice crystallographers are trained in the use of the beamlines, and a wide range of remote tools and hands-on workshops are now offered by SSRL to facilitate the education of the next generation of protein crystallographers.
For the past five years, the Structural Molecular Biology group at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) has provided general users of the facility with fully remote access to the macromolecular crystallography beamlines. This was made possible by implementing fully automated beamlines with a flexible control system and an intuitive user interface, and by the development of the robust and efficient Stanford automated mounting robotic sample-changing system. The ability to control a synchrotron beamline remotely from the comfort of the home laboratory has set a new paradigm for the collection of high-quality X-ray diffraction data and has fostered new collaborative research, whereby a number of remote users from different institutions can be connected at the same time to the SSRL beamlines. The use of remote access has revolutionized the way in which scientists interact with synchrotron beamlines and collect diffraction data, and has also triggered a shift in the way crystallography students are introduced to synchrotron data collection and trained in the best methods for collecting high-quality data. SSRL provides expert crystallographic and engineering staff, state-of-the-art crystallography beamlines, and a number of accessible tools to facilitate data collection and in-house remote training, and encourages the use of these facilities for education, training, outreach and collaborative research.
PMCID: PMC3238386  PMID: 22184477
protein crystallography; high-throughput screening; robotics; remote access; crystallographic education and training; outreach
25.  Single-crystal Raman spectroscopy and X-ray crystallography at beamline X26-C of the NSLS 
Journal of Synchrotron Radiation  2010;18(Pt 1):37-40.
The collection of absorption and Raman spectroscopic data correlated with X-ray diffraction data allows investigators to understand the atomic structure as well as the electronic and vibrational characteristics of their samples, to identify transiently formed intermediates and to explore mechanistic questions. Raman spectroscopy instrumentation at beamline X26-C at the NSLS is currently available to the general user population.
Three-dimensional structures derived from X-ray diffraction of protein crystals provide a wealth of information. Features and interactions important for the function of macromolecules can be deduced and catalytic mechanisms postulated. Still, many questions can remain, for example regarding metal oxidation states and the interpretation of ‘mystery density’, i.e. ambiguous or unknown features within the electron density maps, especially at ∼2 Å resolutions typical of most macromolecular structures. Beamline X26-C at the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS), Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), provides researchers with the opportunity to not only determine the atomic structure of their samples but also to explore the electronic and vibrational characteristics of the sample before, during and after X-ray diffraction data collection. When samples are maintained under cryo-conditions, an opportunity to promote and follow photochemical reactions in situ as a function of X-ray exposure is also provided. Plans are in place to further expand the capabilities at beamline X26-C and to develop beamlines at NSLS-II, currently under construction at BNL, which will provide users access to a wide array of complementary spectroscopic methods in addition to high-quality X-ray diffraction data.
PMCID: PMC3004251  PMID: 21169688
Raman; single-crystal spectroscopy; X-ray diffraction

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