• high-pressure cryocooling;
  • crystal hydration;
  • protein crystallography;
  • coherent X-ray diffraction imaging

High-pressure cryocooling has been developed as an alternative method for cryopreservation of macromolecular crystals and successfully applied for various technical and scientific studies. The method requires the preservation of crystal hydration as the crystal is pressurized with dry helium gas. Previously, crystal hydration was maintained either by coating crystals with a mineral oil or by enclosing crystals in a capillary which was filled with crystallization mother liquor. These methods are not well suited to weakly diffracting crystals because of the relatively high background scattering from the hydrating materials. Here, an alternative method of crystal hydration, called capillary shielding, is described. The specimen is kept hydrated via vapor diffusion in a shielding capillary while it is being pressure cryocooled. After cryocooling, the shielding capillary is removed to reduce background X-ray scattering. It is shown that, compared to previous crystal-hydration methods, the new hydration method produces superior crystal diffraction with little sign of crystal damage. Using the new method, a weakly diffracting protein crystal may be properly pressure cryocooled with little or no addition of external cryoprotectants, and significantly reduced background scattering can be observed from the resulting sample. Beyond the applications for macromolecular crystallography, it is shown that the method has great potential for the preparation of noncrystalline hydrated biological samples for coherent diffraction imaging with future X-ray sources.