X-ray Crystallography - Methods - Overview of Single-crystal X-ray Diffraction - Limitations

Limitations

See also: Resolution (electron density)

As the crystal's repeating unit, its unit cell, becomes larger and more complex, the atomic-level picture provided by X-ray crystallography becomes less well-resolved (more "fuzzy") for a given number of observed reflections. Two limiting cases of X-ray crystallography—"small-molecule" and "macromolecular" crystallography—are often discerned. Small-molecule crystallography typically involves crystals with fewer than 100 atoms in their asymmetric unit; such crystal structures are usually so well resolved that the atoms can be discerned as isolated "blobs" of electron density. By contrast, macromolecular crystallography often involves tens of thousands of atoms in the unit cell. Such crystal structures are generally less well-resolved (more "smeared out"); the atoms and chemical bonds appear as tubes of electron density, rather than as isolated atoms. In general, small molecules are also easier to crystallize than macromolecules; however, X-ray crystallography has proven possible even for viruses with hundreds of thousands of atoms.

Read more about this topic:  X-ray Crystallography, Methods, Overview of Single-crystal X-ray Diffraction

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