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This work shows promising applications of ultrasound in promoting protein crystallization, which is important for structure determination by X-ray crystallography. It was observed that ultrasound can be used as a nucleation promoter as it decreases the energy barrier for crystal formation. Crystallization experiments on egg-white lysozyme were carried out with and without ultrasonic irradiation using commercial crystallization plates placed in temperature-controlled water baths. The nucleation-promoting effect introduced by ultrasound is illustrated by the reduction of the metastable zone width, as measured by the isothermal microbatch technique. The same effect was confirmed by the increased number of conditions leading to the formation of crystals when vapour diffusion techniques were carried out in the presence of ultrasound. By inducing faster nucleation, ultrasound leads to protein crystals grown at low supersaturation levels, which are known to have better diffraction properties. In fact, X-ray diffraction data sets collected using 13 lysozyme crystals (seven grown with ultrasound and six without) show an average 0.1 Å improvement in the resolution limit when ultrasound was used (p < 0.10). Besides the immediate application of ultrasound in nucleation promotion, the preliminary diffraction results also suggest a promising application in crystal quality enhancement.

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