Revealing the 3-D structure of lysozyme crystals proved to be a master class in how enzymes worked.
Crystallography — the study of the arrangement of crystals to uncover the form and function of molecules, all the way down to atomic structure — is a driving force in our understanding of how biological processes work. In nature, we can experience crystals in everything from salt to snowflakes. Molecules are much harder to see. Crystallography fills that gap.
The field has garnered 28 Nobel Prizes. That’s the most of any scientific field. One of those went to David Chilton Phillips in 1966 for revealing the structure of hen egg lysozymes. It was the first enzyme ever to have its structure shown and laid the foundation for all future enzyme knowledge. By showing the structure of lysozymes in three dimensions, chemists and crystallographers were able to deduce for the first time exactly how an enzyme works.
Today, lysozymes purified from hen egg whites are the most-used lysozyme in research.
Watch them take shape using crystallography.
Note: Both time-lapses of hen egg lysozyme crystal formation have been sped up and digitally colorized.