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Heavy-atom derivatization is one of the oldest techniques for obtaining phase information for protein crystals and, although it is no longer the first choice, it remains a useful technique for obtaining phases for unknown structures and for low-resolution data sets. It is also valuable for confirming the chain trace in low-resolution electron-density maps. This overview provides a summary of the technique and is aimed at first-time users of the method. It includes guidelines on when to use it, which heavy atoms are most likely to work, how to prepare heavy-atom solutions, how to derivatize crystals and how to determine whether a crystal is in fact a derivative.

Original publication




Journal article


Acta Crystallographica Section D Structural Biology


International Union of Crystallography (IUCr)

Publication Date





303 - 318