The flat sheets of the purple membrane from Halobacterium halobium contain only a single protein (bacteriorhodopsin) arranged in a hexagonal lattice. After freeze-drying at -80 degrees C (a method that is superior to air-drying), shadowing with tantalum/tungsten, and image processing, structural details on both surfaces are portrayed in the range of 2 nm. One surface is rough and lattice lines are clearly visible, whereas the other is smooth and the hexagonal order seems to be absent. The optical diffraction patterns, however, indicate a hexagonal lattice for both surfaces. In addition, these diffraction patterns are characteristic and easily distinguished. The orientation of the two surfaces was identified by silver decoration: partial condensation of silver on purple membranes enabled the smooth surface to be identified as the plasmatic and the rough surface as the exoplasmic surface. After image processing, the exoplasmic surface shows a triplet structure which exactly fits the projected structure determined by Unwin and Henderson (1975. Nature(Lond.). 257:28-32) at molecular resolution, whereas, on the plasmatic surface, four image details per unit cell are visible. Three of them match the arrangement of bacteriorhodopsin, whereas the fourth must be located over a lipidic array. Summarizing these results, it is possible to show the part of each single bacteriorhodopsin protein that is present in the surfaces of the purple membrane. By "shadowing" the membranes perpendicularly, we prove that these components of the surfaces are mainly portrayed by a decoration effect of the tantalum/tungsten condensate.

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