Direct observation of functional motions in protein structures is highly desirable for understanding how these nanomachineries of life operate at the molecular level. Because cryogenic temperatures are non-physiological and may prohibit or even alter protein structural dynamics, it is necessary to develop robust X-ray diffraction methods that enable routine data collection at room temperature. We recently reported a crystal-on-crystal device to facilitate in situ diffraction of protein crystals at room temperature devoid of any sample manipulation. Here an automated serial crystallography platform based on this crystal-on-crystal technology is presented. A hardware and software prototype has been implemented, and protocols have been established that allow users to image, recognize and rank hundreds to thousands of protein crystals grown on a chip in optical scanning mode prior to serial introduction of these crystals to an X-ray beam in a programmable and high-throughput manner. This platform has been tested extensively using fragile protein crystals. We demonstrate that with affordable sample consumption, this in situ serial crystallography technology could give rise to room-temperature protein structures of higher resolution and superior map quality for those protein crystals that encounter difficulties during freezing. This serial data collection platform is compatible with both monochromatic oscillation and Laue methods for X-ray diffraction and presents a widely applicable approach for static and dynamic crystallographic studies at room temperature.

Ren, Z., Wang, C., Shin, H., Bandara, S., Kumarapperuma, I., Ren, M. Y., Kang, W., and Yang, X. (2020) An automated platform for in situ serial crystallography at room temperature. IUCrJ 7. abstract

Schematic layout of the diffractometer at the beamline. Each subsystem is colored differently: the crystallization device and motion stages are green, the beamline components for X-ray diffraction are yellow, the optical imaging components are gray and the excitation light is red.