Purity, beauty, and perfection

Crystal cubes seen through a microscope
Influenza polymerase crystals produced using the facilities for X-ray crystallography available at EMBL Grenoble. Credit: Petra Drncova/EMBL

Crystals can be found in many places in nature, from diamonds to snowflakes and table salt. Even living organisms are able to produce crystals, for example some sea creatures have calcite or aragonite in their shells. The regular structures of crystals are a source of inspiration and fascination to us humans, and for millenia, crystals have been seen as models of purity, beauty, and perfection. While the crystals in this Picture of the Week were not grown in nature, but instead by Petra Drncova from EMBL Grenoble, they share the same attributes as natural grown ones.

Crystalline structures are formed either from a fluid or from materials dissolved in a fluid. Petra grew the crystals seen here by mixing influenza polymerase, with various buffers to produce tiny drops in which the crystals grow. Protein crystals are very fragile and can only be kept immersed in the liquid in which they grow. The influenza polymerase crystals are then studied at the ESRF synchrotron and facilities in Grenoble jointly run by EMBL.

When such a crystal is analysed with the synchrotron X-ray beam, the researchers can work out the 3D atomic structure of the polymerase, providing detailed information about how it looks and behaves. Because the influenza polymerase protein copies and transcribes the genetic material of the virus so it can replicate and survive, scientists at EMBL Grenoble are studying it with the aim of developing anti-viral drugs that block its action and therefore can halt the viral infection.

Credit: Petra Drncova/EMBL

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Tags: crystallography, grenoble, influenza, polymerase, spotlight, structural biology


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