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As a contribution to the celebration of the year 2014, declared by the United Nations to be ‘The International Year of Crystallography’, the FEBS Journal is dedicating this issue to papers showcasing the intimate union between macromolecular crystallography and structural biology, both in historical perspective and in current research. Instead of a formal editorial piece, by way of introduction, this review discusses the most important, often iconic, achievements of crystallographers that led to major advances in our understanding of the structure and function of biological macromolecules. We identified at least 42 scientists who received Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry or Medicine for their contributions that included the use of X-rays or neutrons and crystallography, including 24 who made seminal discoveries in macromolecular sciences. Our spotlight is mostly, but not only, on the recipients of this most prestigious scientific honor, presented in approximately chronological order. As a summary of the review, we attempt to construct a genealogy tree of the principal lineages of protein crystallography, leading from the founding members to the present generation.This issue of the FEBSJournal is celebrating 2014 as ‘The International Year of Crystallography’. This introductory review discusses the achievements of crystallographers that led to major advances in our understanding of the structure and function of biological macromolecules. The spotlight is mostly, but not only, on Nobel Laureates and focuses on a genealogy tree of macromolecular crystallographers.