Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Seeing Beyond Limits
21 February 2016

Seeing Beyond Limits

Working out what a molecule looks like at atomic level detail is a challenge. X-ray crystallography is one way to do this, but only works if a molecule can be crystallised. Many biomolecules don’t form crystals easily. If they can be coaxed, the crystal often isn’t the right structure to allow the use of Bragg’s law, the method for determining a protein’s structure from the way it scatters X-rays. The result is poor quality models. Now scientists have developed a new method to visualise these crystals accurately, giving a sharper image. In this cartoon, sticks show the actual shape of the molecule, part of a plant protein, while the mesh shows the shape returned using Bragg’s law (left) and, fitting much more closely, the new method (right). A detailed model of a molecule can help determine its function, and allow design of drugs that target it.

Written by Vicky Ware

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