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A new method and the software program BEST for optimal planning of X-ray data collection from protein crystals using the rotation method are presented. From one or a few initial diffraction images, BEST estimates the statistical characteristics of the data set for different combinations of data-collection parameters and suggests the most optimal ones. The anisotropy in diffraction and the permitted width of oscillation without spatially overlapping reflections are taken into account. According to the option chosen, the optimal set of parameters provides a given average signal-to-noise ratio at a given resolution either in the shortest time or with the minimum total radiation dose. BEST has been successfully used at the protein crystallography beamlines at DORIS (DESY). The software proved to be extremely useful in using the available data-collection time in the most efficient way.
Keywords: data collection; BEST.

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