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Acta Crystallographica Section D

Acta Crystallographica Section D: Biological Crystallography welcomes the submission of articles covering any aspect of structural biology, with a particular emphasis on the structures of biological macromolecules and the methods used to determine them. R

Published: 2018-02-01


CCP4i2: the new graphical user interface to the CCP4 program suite


The CCP4 (Collaborative Computational Project, Number 4) software suite for macromolecular structure determination by X-ray crystallography groups brings together many programs and libraries that, by means of well established conventions, interoperate effectively without adhering to strict design guidelines. Because of this inherent flexibility, users are often presented with diverse, even divergent, choices for solving every type of problem. Recently, CCP4 introduced CCP4i2, a modern graphical interface designed to help structural biologists to navigate the process of structure determination, with an emphasis on pipelining and the streamlined presentation of results. In addition, CCP4i2 provides a framework for writing structure-solution scripts that can be built up incrementally to create increasingly automatic procedures.

DIALS: implementation and evaluation of a new integration package


The DIALS project is a collaboration between Diamond Light Source, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and CCP4 to develop a new software suite for the analysis of crystallographic X-ray diffraction data, initially encompassing spot finding, indexing, refinement and integration. The design, core algorithms and structure of the software are introduced, alongside results from the analysis of data from biological and chemical crystallography experiments.

Maximum-likelihood determination of anomalous substructures


A fast Fourier transform (FFT) method is described for determining the substructure of anomalously scattering atoms in macromolecular crystals that allows successful structure determination by X-ray single-wavelength anomalous diffraction (SAD). This method is based on the maximum-likelihood SAD phasing function, which accounts for measurement errors and for correlations between the observed and calculated Bijvoet mates. Proof of principle is shown that this method can improve determination of the anomalously scattering substructure in challenging cases where the anomalous scattering from the substructure is weak but the substructure also constitutes a significant fraction of the real scattering. The method is deterministic and can be fast compared with existing multi-trial dual-space methods for SAD substructure determination.

An introduction to experimental phasing of macromolecules illustrated by SHELX; new autotracing features


For the purpose of this article, experimental phasing is understood to mean the determination of macromolecular structures by exploiting small intensity differences of Friedel opposites and possibly of reflections measured at different wavelengths or for heavy-atom derivatives, without the use of specific structural models. The SHELX programs provide a robust and efficient route for routine structure solution by the SAD, MAD and related methods, but involve a number of simplifying assumptions that may limit their applicability in borderline cases. The substructure atoms (i.e. those with significant anomalous scattering) are first located by direct methods, and the experimental data are then used to estimate phase shifts that are added to the substructure phases to obtain starting phases for the native reflections. These are then improved by density modification and, if the resolution of the data and the type of structure permit, polyalanine tracing. A number of extensions to the tracing algorithm are discussed; these are designed to improve its performance at low resolution. Given native data to 2.5 Å resolution or better, a correlation coefficient greater than 25% between the structure factors calculated from such a trace and the native data is usually a good indication that the structure has been solved.

Substructure determination using phase-retrieval techniques


Thus far, the application of phase-retrieval methods in crystallography has mainly been aimed at variants of charge flipping or structure-factor flipping. In this work, the relaxed averaged alternating reflections (RAAR) algorithm is applied to determine anomalously scattering substructures from single-wavelength anomalous diffraction (SAD) data of macromolecules. The algorithm has been implemented in a new program, PRASA, and has been shown to significantly outperform charge flipping in determining anomalously scattering substructures on a test sample of 169 SAD data sets with resolutions up to 3.88 Å.

Macromolecular refinement by model morphing using non-atomic parameterizations


Refinement is a critical step in the determination of a model which explains the crystallographic observations and thus best accounts for the missing phase components. The scattering density is usually described in terms of atomic parameters; however, in macromolecular crystallography the resolution of the data is generally insufficient to determine the values of these parameters for individual atoms. Stereochemical and geometric restraints are used to provide additional information, but produce interrelationships between parameters which slow convergence, resulting in longer refinement times. An alternative approach is proposed in which parameters are not attached to atoms, but to regions of the electron-density map. These parameters can move the density or change the local temperature factor to better explain the structure factors. Varying the size of the region which determines the parameters at a particular position in the map allows the method to be applied at different resolutions without the use of restraints. Potential applications include initial refinement of molecular-replacement models with domain motions, and potentially the use of electron density from other sources such as electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM) as the refinement model.

Model validation: local diagnosis, correction and when to quit


Traditionally, validation was considered to be a final gatekeeping function, but refinement is smoother and results are better if model validation actively guides corrections throughout structure solution. This shifts emphasis from global to local measures: primarily geometry, conformations and sterics. A fit into the wrong local minimum conformation usually produces outliers in multiple measures. Moving to the right local minimum should be prioritized, rather than small shifts across arbitrary borderlines. Steric criteria work best with all explicit H atoms. `Backrub' motions should be used for side chains and `P-perp' diagnostics to correct ribose puckers. A `water' may actually be an ion, a relic of misfitting or an unmodeled alternate. Beware of wishful thinking in modeling ligands. At high resolution, internally consistent alternate conformations should be modeled and geometry in poor density should not be downweighted. At low resolution, CaBLAM should be used to diagnose protein secondary structure and ERRASER to correct RNA backbone. All atoms should not be forced inside density, beware of sequence misalignment, and very rare conformations such as cis-non-Pro peptides should be avoided. Automation continues to improve, but the crystallographer still must look at each outlier, in the context of density, and correct most of them. For the valid few with unambiguous density and something that is holding them in place, a functional reason should be sought. The expectation is a few outliers, not zero.

Distributed computing for macromolecular crystallography


Modern crystallographic computing is characterized by the growing role of automated structure-solution pipelines, which represent complex expert systems utilizing a number of program components, decision makers and databases. They also require considerable computational resources and regular database maintenance, which is increasingly more difficult to provide at the level of individual desktop-based CCP4 setups. On the other hand, there is a significant growth in data processed in the field, which brings up the issue of centralized facilities for keeping both the data collected and structure-solution projects. The paradigm of distributed computing and data management offers a convenient approach to tackling these problems, which has become more attractive in recent years owing to the popularity of mobile devices such as tablets and ultra-portable laptops. In this article, an overview is given of developments by CCP4 aimed at bringing distributed crystallographic computations to a wide crystallographic community.

Where is crystallography going?


Macromolecular crystallography (MX) has been a motor for biology for over half a century and this continues apace. A series of revolutions, including the production of recombinant proteins and cryo-crystallography, have meant that MX has repeatedly reinvented itself to dramatically increase its reach. Over the last 30 years synchrotron radiation has nucleated a succession of advances, ranging from detectors to optics and automation. These advances, in turn, open up opportunities. For instance, a further order of magnitude could perhaps be gained in signal to noise for general synchrotron experiments. In addition, X-ray free-electron lasers offer to capture fragments of reciprocal space without radiation damage, and open up the subpicosecond regime of protein dynamics and activity. But electrons have recently stolen the limelight: so is X-ray crystallography in rude health, or will imaging methods, especially single-particle electron microscopy, render it obsolete for the most interesting biology, whilst electron diffraction enables structure determination from even the smallest crystals? We will lay out some information to help you decide.