Meet photosystem I, a plant protein that converts sunlight into energy during photosynthesis, in all its crystalline glory.
To create this image, researchers led by Henry Chapman of the Centre for Free-Electron Laser Science at the German national laboratory DESY sprayed 15,000 nanocrystals of the protein into the path of the Linac Coherent Light Source, an X-ray laser at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California.
Powerful laser pulses vaporised the nanocrystals almost instantly, but not before the crystals had scattered X-rays, producing diffraction patterns that could be combined to render the crystal’s detailed structure in three dimensions.
The ability to glean structural data from such tiny crystals could allow many more proteins to be understood. Other methods of elucidating structure require larger crystals, which, for some proteins, can be difficult or impossible to prepare.
Source: Nature, DOI:10.1038/nature09750
Image Credit: Thomas White, German national laboratory DESY.