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Ice in biomolecular cryocrystallography

Cornell Affiliated Author(s)


D.W. Moreau
H. Atakisi
R.E. Thorne


Diffraction data acquired from cryocooled protein crystals often include diffraction from ice. Analysis of ice diffraction from crystals of three proteins shows that the ice formed within solvent cavities during rapid cooling is comprised of a stacking-disordered mixture of hexagonal and cubic planes, with the cubic plane fraction increasing with increasing cryoprotectant concentration and increasing cooling rate. Building on the work of Thorn and coworkers [Thorn et al. (2017), Acta Cryst. D73, 729-727], a revised metric is defined for detecting ice from deposited protein structure-factor data, and this metric is validated using full-frame diffraction data from the Integrated Resource for Reproducibility in Macromolecular Crystallography. Using this revised metric and improved algorithms, an analysis of structure-factor data from a random sample of 89 827 PDB entries collected at cryogenic temperatures indicates that roughly 16% show evidence of ice contamination, and that this fraction increases with increasing solvent content and maximum solvent-cavity size. By examining the ice diffraction-peak positions at which structure-factor perturbations are observed, it is found that roughly 25% of crystals exhibit ice with primarily hexagonal character, indicating that inadequate cooling rates and/or cryoprotectant concentrations were used, while the remaining 75% show ice with a stacking-disordered or cubic character. © 2021 International Union of Crystallography. All rights reserved.

Date Published


Acta Crystallographica Section D: Structural Biology



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Research Area

Group (Lab)

Robert Thorne Group

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