Protein structure determination companies have been heavily investing in industrializing the process of x-ray crystallography. However, an article last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests a new methodology that provides an alternative to the serendipitous and often laborious task of crystallizing protein samples in order to solve the 3-dimensional structure of a protein.

The approach involves the use of an x-ray free electron laser (XFEL) that creates a powerful pulse targeted to hit a non-crystalline droplet containing a single protein molecule. Multiple iterations of this process allow the collection of 2-dimensional diffraction patterns that can be mathematically translated into a 3-dimensional protein structure.