Acta crystallographica. Section D, Biological crystallography

Improved reproducibility of unit-cell parameters in macromolecular cryocrystallography by limiting dehydration during crystal mounting.

PMID 25084331


In macromolecular cryocrystallography unit-cell parameters can have low reproducibility, limiting the effectiveness of combining data sets from multiple crystals and inhibiting the development of defined repeatable cooling protocols. Here, potential sources of unit-cell variation are investigated and crystal dehydration during loop-mounting is found to be an important factor. The amount of water lost by the unit cell depends on the crystal size, the loop size, the ambient relative humidity and the transfer distance to the cooling medium. To limit water loss during crystal mounting, a threefold strategy has been implemented. Firstly, crystal manipulations are performed in a humid environment similar to the humidity of the crystal-growth or soaking solution. Secondly, the looped crystal is transferred to a vial containing a small amount of the crystal soaking solution. Upon loop transfer, the vial is sealed, which allows transport of the crystal at its equilibrated humidity. Thirdly, the crystal loop is directly mounted from the vial into the cold gas stream. This strategy minimizes the exposure of the crystal to relatively low humidity ambient air, improves the reproducibility of low-temperature unit-cell parameters and offers some new approaches to crystal handling and cryoprotection.