In this paper, it is shown how rigid-body kinematics can be used to assist in determining the atomic structure of proteins and nucleic acids when using x-ray crystallography, which is a powerful method for structure determination. The importance of determining molecular structures for understanding biological processes and for the design of new drugs is well known. Phasing is a necessary step in determining the three-dimensional structure of molecules from x-ray diffraction patterns. A computational approach called molecular replacement (MR) is a well-established method for phasing of x-ray diffraction patterns for crystals composed of biological macromolecules. In MR, a search is performed over positions and orientations of a known biomolecular structure within a model of the crystallographic asymmetric unit, or, equivalently, multiple symmetry-related molecules in the crystallographic unit cell. Unlike the discrete space groups known to crystallographers and the continuous rigid-body motions known to kinematicians, the set of motions over which MR searches are performed does not form a group. Rather, it is a coset space of the group of continuous rigid-body motions, SE(3), with respect to the crystallographic space group of the crystal, which is a discrete subgroup of SE(3). Properties of these “motion spaces” (which are compact manifolds) are investigated here.

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