A map-likelihood function is described that can yield phase probabilities with very low model bias.
The recently developed technique of maximum-likelihood density modification [Terwilliger (2000 ▶), Acta Cryst. D56, 965–972] allows a calculation of phase probabilities based on the likelihood of the electron-density map to be carried out separately from the calculation of any prior phase probabilities. Here, it is shown that phase-probability distributions calculated from the map-likelihood function alone can be highly accurate and that they show minimal bias towards the phases used to initiate the calculation. Map-likelihood phase probabilities depend upon expected characteristics of the electron-density map, such as a defined solvent region and expected electron-density distributions within the solvent region and the region occupied by a macromolecule. In the simplest case, map-likelihood phase-probability distributions are largely based on the flatness of the solvent region. Though map-likelihood phases can be calculated without prior phase information, they are greatly enhanced by high-quality starting phases. This leads to the technique of prime-and-switch phasing for removing model bias. In prime-and-switch phasing, biased phases such as those from a model are used to prime or initiate map-likelihood phasing, then final phases are obtained from map-likelihood phasing alone. Map-likelihood phasing can be applied in cases with solvent content as low as 30%. Potential applications of map-likelihood phasing include unbiased phase calculation from molecular-replacement models, iterative model building, unbiased electron-density maps for cases where 2Fo − Fc or σA-weighted maps would currently be used, structure validation and ab initio phase determination from solvent masks, non-crystallographic symmetry or other knowledge about expected electron density.