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Uniqueness of the phase problem in macromolecular crystallography, and its relationship to the case of single particle imaging, is considered. The crystallographic problem is characterized by a constraint ratio that depends only on the size and symmetry of the molecule and the unit cell. The results are used to evaluate the effect of various real-space constraints. The case of an unknown molecular envelope is considered in detail. The results indicate the quite wide circumstances under which ab initio phasing should be possible.

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