X-ray crystallography visualizes the world at the atomic level. It has been used as the most powerful technique for observing the three-dimensional structures of biological macromolecules and has pioneered structural biology. To determine a crystal structure with high resolution, it was traditionally required to prepare large crystals (> 200 μm). Later, synchrotron radiation facilities, such as SPring-8, that produce powerful X-rays were built. They enabled users to obtain good quality X-ray diffraction images even with smaller crystals (ca. 200–50 μm). In recent years, one of the most important technological innovations in structural biology has been the development of X-ray free electron lasers (XFELs). The SPring-8 Angstrom Compact free electron LAser (SACLA) in Japan generates the XFEL beam by accelerating electrons to relativistic speeds and directing them through in-vacuum, short-period undulators. Since user operation started in 2012, we have been involved in the development of serial femtosecond crystallography (SFX) measurement systems using XFEL at the SACLA. The SACLA generates X-rays a billion times brighter than SPring-8. The extremely bright XFEL pulses enable data collection with microcrystals (ca. 50–1 μm). Although many molecular analysis techniques exist, SFX is the only technique that can visualize radiation-damage-free structures of biological macromolecules at room temperature in atomic resolution and fast time resolution. Here, we review the achievements of the SACLA-SFX Project in the past 5 years. In particular, we focus on: (1) the measurement system for SFX; (2) experimental phasing by SFX; (3) enzyme chemistry based on damage-free room-temperature structures; and (4) molecular movie taken by time-resolved SFX.
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