Crystallization is necessary to obtain the three-dimensional structure of proteins and nucleic acids; it often represents the bottleneck in structure determination. Our understanding of crystallization mechanisms is still incomplete. In this review, we emphasize fundamental aspects of the crystallization process.

Protein-protein contacts in crystals are complex, involving a delicate balance of specific and nonspecific interactions. Depending on solution conditions, these interactions can lead to nucleation of crystals or to amorphous aggregation; this stage of crystallization has been successfully studied by light scattering. Post nucleation crystal growth may proceed by mechanisms involving crystal defects or two-dimensional nucleation, as observed by atomic force and interference microscopy. Cessation of growth has been observed but remains incompletely understood. Impurities may play important roles during all stages of crystallization. Phase diagrams can guide optimization of conditions for nucleation and subsequent crystal growth; a theoretical understanding relating these to the intermolecular interactions is beginning to develop.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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