Chapter 25.1 How the structure of lysozyme was actually determined

Crystallography of biological macromolecules

Second Online Edition (2012)

Part 25. A historical perspective

  1. C. C. F. Blake1,
  2. R. H. Fenn1,
  3. L. N. Johnson1,
  4. D. F. Koenig1,
  5. G. A. Mair1,
  6. A. C. T. North1,
  7. J. W. H. Oldham1,
  8. D. C. Phillips1,
  9. R. J. Poljak1,
  10. V. R. Sarma1,
  11. C. A. Vernon2

Published Online: 14 APR 2012

DOI: 10.1107/97809553602060000899

International Tables for Crystallography

International Tables for Crystallography

How to Cite

Blake, C. C. F., Fenn, R. H., Johnson, L. N., Koenig, D. F., Mair, G. A., North, A. C. T., Oldham, J. W. H., Phillips, D. C., Poljak, R. J., Sarma, V. R. and Vernon, C. A. 2012. How the structure of lysozyme was actually determined. International Tables for Crystallography. F:25:25.1:845–872.

Author Information

  1. 1

    Davy Faraday Research Laboratory, The Royal Institution, London W1X 4BS, England

  2. 2

    Department of Chemistry, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, England

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 14 APR 2012


Lysozyme was the second protein structure and the first enzyme structure to be solved by X-ray diffraction methods. The structure was published in 1965. Later work published in 1967 led to an explanation of the catalytic function of the enzyme and gave a vision of the explanatory power of structure for biological function. This chapter describes the crystals, the search for heavy-atom derivatives and the careful X-ray measurements made possible by the development of the linear diffractometer. By optimizing crystal mounting, by correcting for absorption effects and with considerable attention to radiation-damage effects implemented in the measurements and in the data-processing software, a complete data set to 2 Å resolution was measured with remarkable precision. The precision of the measurements allowed anomalous-scattering effects to be introduced to help resolve the phase problem. The resulting electron-density map was immediately interpretable and the initial draft model building took about 1 month. The model was completed in time for it to form the centrepiece of Sir Lawrence Bragg’s 75th birthday party at the Royal Institution on 31 March 1965. Many of the historical details of the data collection and structure determination are presented for the first time.


  • absorption corrections;
  • crystallization;
  • data processing;
  • early structure determinations;
  • heavy-atom derivatives;
  • lysozyme;
  • scaling