A Textbook

John Wiley & Sons

Copyright © 2003 Johann Gasteiger
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-3-527-30681-7


Mathematically speaking, two chicken halves give one chicken. This is true with respect to mass. Such a chicken, however, is not a living one. Moreover, the two halves must be mirror images to form the shape of a chicken. Obviously, numbers are only half of the story, information comes in disparate guises. Chemistry, the science of materials and their transformations, exhibits a broad diversity of information, which by now encompasses an enormous body of knowledge about chemical structures, properties, and reactions. However, despite all the achievements during the last two centuries, which changed early chemical craftsmanship into a sophisticated natural science, chemistry is still devoid of the all-round theory, having, for examples the potential to predict precise structure-activity or structure-function relationships. It would explain, for instance, why palytoxin [C.sub.129][H.sub.223][N.sub.3][O.sub.54], being isolated from a Hawaiian coral in 1979, is one of the most poisonous natural substances. With its 64 chiral carbon atoms and six olefinic bonds, offering more than [10.sup.21] possible isomers, the total synthesis of palytoxin carboxylic acid may be compared with the first climbing of Mount Everest (Kishi, et al. at Harvard University, 1989).

Comparable efforts are needed to master the flood of information and accumulated knowledge in chemistry today. While until 1960 the number of natural and laboratory-produced compounds had almost linearly increased to roughly one million in about 150 years, its growth expanded exponentially from then on, reaching 18 million in 2000. This is just one aspect of the revolution in chemistry brought about by the rapid advancement of computer technology since 1965. Methods of physics, mathematics and information science entered chemistry to an unprecedented extent, which furnished laboratories with powerful new instrumental techniques. Also, a broad variety of model-based or quantum-mechanical computations became feasible, which were thought impossible a few decades ago. For example, the computer modeling of water transport through membranes mediated by aquaporins yields the time dependence of the spatial position of typically [10.sup.5] atoms on a picosecond scale up to 10 ns (Grubmüller et al., MPI Göttingen). Such huge data arrays can be searched for and accessed via computer networks and then evaluated in a different context ("data mining"). Furthermore, new chemical techniques, such as combinatorial synthesis, have high data output. Overall it can be stated that, particularly for the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, researchers now spend more time in digesting data than in generating them, whereas the reverse was true a few years ago.

In the 1970's, chemists increasingly encountered varying aspects of the triumvirate "chemistry-information-computer" (CIC) while conducting their research. Common to all was the use of computers and information technologies for the generation of data, the mixing of data sources, the transformation of data into information and then information into knowledge for the ultimate purpose of solving chemical problems, e.g. organic synthesis planning, drug design, and structure elucidation. These activities led to a new field of chemical expertise which had distinctly different features compared with the traditional archiving approach of chemical information, which has been established about 200 years ago and comprises primary journals, secondary literature, and retrieval systems like Chemical Abstracts.

In the 1980s, computer networks evolved and opened a new era for fast data flow over almost any distance. Their importance was not generally recognized in the chemical community at the beginning. The situation may be characterized with words from the late Karl Valentin: "A computer network is something that one does not want to be in the need to have, nevertheless simply must want to have, because one always might be in need to use it. (Ein Datennetz ist etwas was man eigentlich me brauchen mussen m6chte, aber doch einfach wollen mug, weil man es immer brauchen tun k6nnte.)" In 1986 Johann Gasteiger, also in Munich, coinitiated the Task Force CIC of the German Chemical Society (GDCh). In the same year, he started the CIC Workshops on Software Development in Chemistry which found overwhelming acceptance. Until today these annual meetings have served as a forum for the presentation and dissemination of recent results in the various CIC fields, including chemical information systems. The Task Force CIC later merged with GDCh Division Chemical Information under the name "Chemie-Information-Computer (CIC)".

The 1990s saw the advent of the Internet, which boosted the use of computer networks in chemistry. In its sequel, at the turn of the century, the work of the forerunners at the intersection of chemistry and computer science eventually received recognition in its entirety as a new interdisciplinary science: "Chemoinformatics" had come of age. It encompasses the design, creation, organization, management, retrieval, analysis, dissemination, visualization, and use of chemical information (G. Paris). Its cousin, Bioinformatics, which was developed somewhat earlier, generally focuses on genes and proteins, while chemoinformatics centers on small molecules. Yet the distinction is fuzzy, e.g. when the binding of small molecules to proteins is addressed. From the viewpoint of the life sciences, the borderline may blur completely.

A young scientific discipline grows with its students. For students, in turn, the efforts pay dividends. The demand from industrial employers increases steadily for chemoinformaticians, and so the field is expected to become big business. The question therefore arises how and where chemoinformatics can be learned. One good place to go is Erlangen. Johann Gasteiger and his group were practicing chemoinformatics for 25 years without even knowing its name. In 1991 he received the Gmelin Beilstein medal of the German Chemical Society (GDCh) and in 1997, he received the "Herman Skolnik Award" of the Division of Chemical Information of the American Chemical Society in recognition for his many achievements in the CIC field. With the present comprehensive textbook on chemoinformatics for undergraduate and graduate students, Gasteiger and his group lay a solid foundation-stone for many more "Erlangens" in the world. My warm recommendation goes with this book, in particular to my academic colleagues. It seems to be the right time for universities to begin to teach chemoinformatics on a broad scale. Subject to local reality this may be conducted as part of a diploma course of study in chemistry, as a master's study after a BS in chemistry, or as a full course of study in chemoinformatics, like that available in bioinformatics. In all cases, this book and its supplementary material would provide the adequate basis for teaching as well as for self-paced learning.

Dieter Ziessow Chairperson "Chemie-Information-Computer (CIC)" of the German Chemical Society (GDCh)


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