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Open Access Highly Accessed Methodology

Chemical Entity Semantic Specification: Knowledge representation for efficient semantic cheminformatics and facile data integration

Leonid L Chepelev1* and Michel Dumontier123

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

2 Institute of Biochemistry, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

3 School of Computer Science, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

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Journal of Cheminformatics 2011, 3:20  doi:10.1186/1758-2946-3-20

Published: 19 May 2011

Abstract

Background

Over the past several centuries, chemistry has permeated virtually every facet of human lifestyle, enriching fields as diverse as medicine, agriculture, manufacturing, warfare, and electronics, among numerous others. Unfortunately, application-specific, incompatible chemical information formats and representation strategies have emerged as a result of such diverse adoption of chemistry. Although a number of efforts have been dedicated to unifying the computational representation of chemical information, disparities between the various chemical databases still persist and stand in the way of cross-domain, interdisciplinary investigations. Through a common syntax and formal semantics, Semantic Web technology offers the ability to accurately represent, integrate, reason about and query across diverse chemical information.

Results

Here we specify and implement the Chemical Entity Semantic Specification (CHESS) for the representation of polyatomic chemical entities, their substructures, bonds, atoms, and reactions using Semantic Web technologies. CHESS provides means to capture aspects of their corresponding chemical descriptors, connectivity, functional composition, and geometric structure while specifying mechanisms for data provenance. We demonstrate that using our readily extensible specification, it is possible to efficiently integrate multiple disparate chemical data sources, while retaining appropriate correspondence of chemical descriptors, with very little additional effort. We demonstrate the impact of some of our representational decisions on the performance of chemically-aware knowledgebase searching and rudimentary reaction candidate selection. Finally, we provide access to the tools necessary to carry out chemical entity encoding in CHESS, along with a sample knowledgebase.

Conclusions

By harnessing the power of Semantic Web technologies with CHESS, it is possible to provide a means of facile cross-domain chemical knowledge integration with full preservation of data correspondence and provenance. Our representation builds on existing cheminformatics technologies and, by the virtue of RDF specification, remains flexible and amenable to application- and domain-specific annotations without compromising chemical data integration. We conclude that the adoption of a consistent and semantically-enabled chemical specification is imperative for surviving the coming chemical data deluge and supporting systems science research.

Graphical abstract