Coherent diffractive imaging of microtubules using an X-ray laser (2019)
X-ray free electron lasers (XFELs) create new possibilities for structural studies of biological objects that extend beyond what is possible with synchrotron radiation. Serial femtosecond crystallography has allowed high-resolution structures to be determined from micro-meter sized crystals, whereas single particle coherent X-ray imaging requires development to extend the resolution beyond a few tens of nanometres. Here we describe an intermediate approach: the XFEL imaging of biological assemblies with helical symmetry. We collected X-ray scattering images from samples of microtubules injected across an XFEL beam using a liquid microjet, sorted these images into class averages, merged these data into a diffraction pattern extending to 2 nm resolution, and reconstructed these data into a projection image of the microtubule. Details such as the 4 nm tubulin monomer became visible in this reconstruction. These results illustrate the potential of single-molecule X-ray imaging of biological assembles with helical symmetry at room temperature.