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Keywords:

  • radiation damage;
  • crystallization buffers;
  • radicals;
  • scavengers;
  • lithium nitrate

An extensive radiation chemistry literature would suggest that the addition of certain radical scavengers might mitigate the effects of radiation damage during protein crystallography diffraction data collection. However, attempts to demonstrate and quantify such an amelioration and its dose dependence have not yielded consistent results, either at room temperature (RT) or 100 K. Here the information thus far available is summarized and reasons for this lack of quantitative success are identified. Firstly, several different metrics have been used to monitor and quantify the rate of damage, and, as shown here, these can give results which are in conflict regarding scavenger efficacy. In addition, significant variation in results from data collected from crystals treated in nominally the same way has been observed. Secondly, typical crystallization conditions contain substantial concentrations of chemical species which already interact strongly with some of the X-ray-induced radicals that the added scavengers are intended to intercept. These interactions are probed here by the complementary technique of on-line microspectrophotometry carried out on solutions and crystals held both at 100 K and RT, the latter enabled by the use of a beamline-mounted humidifying device. With the help of computational chemistry, attempts are made to assign some of the characteristic spectral features observed experimentally. A further source of uncertainty undoubtedly lies in the challenge of reliably measuring the parameters necessary for the accurate calculation of the absorbed dose (e.g. crystal size and shape, beam profile) and its distribution within the volume of the crystal (an issue addressed in detail in another article in this issue). While microspectrophotometry reveals that the production of various species can be quenched by the addition of scavengers, it is less clear that this observation can be translated into a significant gain in crystal dose tolerance for macromolecular crystallographers.