Single particle cryo-EM has recently developed into a powerful tool to determine the 3D structure of macromolecular complexes at near-atomic resolution, which allows structural biologists to build atomic models of proteins. All technical aspects of cryo-EM technology have been considerably improved over the last two decades, including electron microscopic hardware, image processing software and the ever growing speed of computers. This leads to a more widespread use of the technique, and it can be anticipated that further automation of electron microscopes and image processing tools will soon fully shift the focus away from the technological aspects, onto biological questions that can be answered. In single particle cryo-EM, no crystals of a macromolecule are required. In contrast to X-ray crystallography, this significantly facilitates structure determination by cryo-EM. Nevertheless, a relatively high level of biochemical control is still essential to obtain high-resolution structures by cryo-EM, and it can be anticipated that the success of the cryo-EM technology goes hand in hand with further developments of sample purification and preparation techniques. This will allow routine high-resolution structure determination of the many macromolecular complexes of the cell that until now represent evasive targets for X-ray crystallographers. Here we discuss the various biochemical tools that are currently available and the existing sample purification and preparation techniques for cryo-EM grid preparation that are needed to obtain high-resolution images for structure determination.

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