Friday, November 20, 2009

CAS curates strychnine m.p. - ChemInfo Class 9

What is going to distinguish chemistry databases as we move forward in this Web2.0 world?

If I was unsure of it when I started teaching Chemical Information Retrieval 2 months ago, I certainly got my answer yesterday afternoon. Cristian Dumitrescu from CAS contacted me to discuss the problems I had encountered when attempting to use SciFinder to find the melting point of strychnine. He had read my blog post and wanted to make sure he understood the problem. So I had a conference call with him and a CAS colleague and I explained that several m.p. values corresponded to strychnine salts instead of the free base. They agreed to rectify the situation.

Apparently Cristian stays on top of what is being said about CAS products from various sources, including the blogosphere. I think that what will distinguish chemistry databases as we move forward is precisely this type of proactivity and responsiveness.

There are a plethora of databases out there to search for chemical information. Most of them contain surprisingly significant amounts of incorrect data. My students are in the process of demonstrating that with their assignment on finding 5 sources for 5 properties of a chemical of their choice. When they are done in 2 weeks I'll post about that, perhaps doing a top 10 worst data points.

CAS is an example of a commercial database. But the same principle applies to free databases as well.

Consider the glatiramer acetate problem I reported on previously. ChemSpider immediately removed the entry because a random polymer was being incorrectly represented as a physical mixture of amino acids. As far as I know no other free databases have corrected the problem, although contact information for people running various databases was provided by Michael Kuhn and Egon Willighagen on FriendFeed.

I spoke with Cristian about the problem and he said he would look into it. Upon doing a search for glatiramer acetate on SciFinder it appears that there is currently a problem. The text correctly explains that this is a polymer but the empirical formula looks like just a physical mixture of amino acids, with an extra H2O per unit that should not be there after amide formation. But this was minor compared to the problems I reported on previously - for example there were no incorrectly calculated molecular properties, although the images did not represent the structure of the polymer.
This has been a good week for curation. Yesterday Nick successfully completed the evaluation of the stereochemistry of nargenicin and submitted the corrected SMILES to ChemSpider. Tony Williams has already incorporated the fix and now a search for nargenicin on ChemSpider gives just one entry.

Tony has provided several such puzzles for my students and a few are close to resolving the structures. The main problem is that the structures were entered into ChemSpider with at least one undefined stereocenter. Finding the correct structure from the primary literature can be very challenging for structures of this complexity but it certainly puts the chemical information retrieval methods I am teaching my students to good use.

The class itself was short - and covered mainly just details of student assignments - since we won't have much time during the last class on December 3, 2009 for a workshop. Rajarshi Guha and Tony Williams will be my guest lecturers on that day.

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