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Toward imaging single biomolecules

2:14pm, April 17, 2007

Blowing stuff up can sometimes be good for science. A new generation of lasers is expected to image complex molecules, such as proteins, even though the molecules themselves explode in the process.

Scientists can deduce a molecule's form from the way in which X rays scatter off it. This technique, called X-ray diffraction, normally requires coaxing large numbers of the molecule into crystal form. But some molecules—including many of the proteins that shuttle ions in and out of cells—are difficult or impossible to crystallize. In a few years, new machines called free-electron lasers may image single molecules with X-ray

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