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Promotion of protein crystal growth by actively switching crystal growth mode via femtosecond laser ablation


Large single crystals with desirable shapes are essential for various scientific and industrial fields, such as X-ray/neutron crystallography and crystalline devices. However, in the case of proteins the production of such crystals is particularly challenging, despite the efforts devoted to optimization of the environmental, chemical and physical parameters. Here we report an innovative approach for promoting the growth of protein crystals by directly modifying the local crystal structure via femtosecond laser ablation. We demonstrate that protein crystals with surfaces that are locally etched (several micrometers in diameter) by femtosecond laser ablation show enhanced growth rates without losing crystal quality. Optical phase-sensitive microscopy and X-ray topography imaging techniques reveal that the local etching induces spiral growth, which is energetically advantageous compared with the spontaneous two-dimensional nucleation growth mode. These findings prove that femtosecond laser ablation can actively switch the crystal growth mode, offering flexible control over the size and shape of protein crystals.

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Figure 1: Promotion of crystal growth by femtosecond laser ablation.
Figure 2: Spiral growth from the ablated crystal surface.
Figure 3: Mechanism of crystal growth promotion by laser ablation.


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We thank G. Sazaki, S. Nakayama and Y. Hayashi for experimental support and helpful discussions. We also thank K. Baba and N. Mizuno for experimental support at SPring-8 (Hyogo, Japan), and H. Sugiyama, T. Kishi and R. Suzuki for experimental support at PF (Tsukuba, Japan). The synchrotron radiation X-ray diffraction was performed at SPring-8 with the approval of the Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute (JASRI) (Proposal numbers 2014B1195 and 2015B2046). The synchrotron radiation X-ray topography was performed at the Photon Factory under the auspices of the Photon Factory Program Advisory Committee of the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (Proposal numbers 2013G649 and 2015G714). This work was partly supported by grants from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science to Y.M. (KAKENHI Nos. 26286042 and 15K13800) and to H.Y.Y. (KAKENHI grant numbers 15H05351 and 16K12868). This work was also partly supported by a grant from the JGC-S Scholarship foundation to H.Y.Y.

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Y.T., M.M. and H.Y.Y. designed the research and wrote the paper. Y.T. carried out the laser experiments with help from M.M., H.Y.Y., M.Y. and Y.M. S.S. helped to perform the X-ray diffraction experiments. H.K. and M.T. carried out the X-ray topography measurements. All authors discussed the results.

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Correspondence to Mihoko Maruyama or Hiroshi Y. Yoshikawa.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Tominaga, Y., Maruyama, M., Yoshimura, M. et al. Promotion of protein crystal growth by actively switching crystal growth mode via femtosecond laser ablation. Nature Photon 10, 723–726 (2016).

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