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Radiation damage is a major cause of failure in macromolecular crystallography experiments. Although it is always best to evenly illuminate the entire volume of a homogeneously diffracting crystal, limitations of the available equipment and imperfections in the sample often require a more sophisticated targeting strategy, involving microbeams smaller than the crystal, and translations of the crystal during data collection. This leads to a highly inhomogeneous distribution of absorbed X-rays (i.e., dose). Under these common experimental conditions, the relationship between dose and time is nonlinear, making it difficult to design an experimental strategy that optimizes the radiation damage lifetime of the crystal, or to assign appropriate dose values to an experiment. We present, and experimentally validate, a predictive metric diffraction-weighted dose for modeling the rate of decay of total diffracted intensity from protein crystals in macromolecular crystallography, and hence we can now assign appropriate "dose" values to modern experimental setups. Further, by taking the ratio of total elastic scattering to diffraction-weighted dose, we show that it is possible to directly compare potential data-collection strategies to optimize the diffraction for a given level of damage under specific experimental conditions. As an example of the applicability of this method, we demonstrate that by offsetting the rotation axis from the beam axis by 1.25 times the full-width half maximum of the beam, it is possible to significantly extend the dose lifetime of the crystal, leading to a higher number of diffracted photons, better statistics, and lower overall radiation damage.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date





20551 - 20556


Animals, Cattle, Crystallization, Crystallography, X-Ray, Insulin, Models, Chemical