The folks at the EBI have been doing some great work on the CDK. A major effort is underway to revamp JChemPaint and part of this involves improving the rendering of 2D depictions. While not complete I rebuilt a version of the CDK 1.2.x branch with the latest rendering code from the jchempaint-primary branch and updated the CDK web service. The results are much nicer, though there’s scope for improvements. See for example


Thanks to Gilleain and Egon for pointing me in the right direction. Anybody using this service should see the new depictions automatically

The current version of the REST interface to the CDK descriptors allowed one to access descriptor values for a SMILES string by simply appending it to an URL, resulting in something like


This type of URL is pretty handy to construct by hand. However, as Pat Walters pointed out in the comments to that post, SMILES containing ‘#’ will cause problems since that character is a URL fragment identifier. Furthermore, the presence of a ‘/’ in a SMILES string necessitates some processing in the service to recognize it as part of the SMILES, rather than a URL path separator. While the service could handle these (at the expense of messy code) it turned out that there were subtle bugs.

Based on Pats’ suggestion I converted the service to use base64 encoded SMILES, which let me simplify the code and remove the bugs. As a result, one cannot append the SMILES directly to the URL’s. Instead the above URL would be rewritten in the form


All the example URL’s described in my previous post that involve SMILES strings, should be rewritten using base64 encoded SMILES. So to get a document listing all descriptors for “c1ccccc1COCC” one would write


and then follow the links therein.

While this makes it a little harder to directly write out these URL’s by hand, I expect that most uses of this service would be programmatic – in which case getting base64 encoded SMILES is trivial.

As part of my work at IU I have been implementing a number of cheminformatics web services. Initially these were SOAP, but I realized that REST interfaces make life much easier. (also see here) As a result, a number of these services have simple REST interfaces. One such service provides molecular descriptor calculations, using the CDK as the backend. Thus by visitingĀ  (i.e., making a HTTP GET request) a URL of the form


you get a simple XML document containing a list of URL’s. Each URL represents a specific “resource”. In this context, the resource is the descriptor values for the given molecule. Thus by visiting


one gets another simple XML document that lists the names and values of the AlogP descriptor. In this case, the CDK implementation evaluates AlogP, AlogP2 and molar refractivity – so there are actually three descriptor values. On the other hand something like theĀ  molecular weight descriptor gives a single value. To just see the list of available descriptors visit


which gives an XML document containing a series of links. Visiting one of these links gives the “descriptor specification” – information on the vendor, version, reference to a descriptor ontology and so on.

(I should point out that the descriptors available in this service are from a pretty old version of the CDK. I really should update the descriptors to the 1.2.x versions)


This type of interface makes it easy to whip up various applications. One example is the PCA analysis of compound collections. Another one I put together today based on a conversation with Jean-Claude was a simple application to plot pairs of descriptor values for a collection of SMILES.


The app is pretty simple (and quite slow, since it uses synchronous GET’s to the descriptor service for each SMILES and has to make two calls for each SMILES – hey, it was a quick hack!). Currently, it’s a bit restrictive – if a descriptor calculates multiple values, it will only use the first value. To see how many values a molecular descriptor calculates, see the list here.

With a little more effort one could easily have a pretty nice online descriptor calculation application rivaling a standalone application such as the the CDK descriptor GUI

Also,if you struggle with nice CSS layouts, the CSS Layout Collection is a fantastic resource. And jQuery rocks.

With all the stuff I’ve been hearing about Git I’ve been looking to play around with it. While I have been hosting my own Subversion repo on my office machine, the use of GitHub seemed like a good way to play with Git and also have a stable external repo.

So right now the CDKDescUI project has been shifted into Git and is located here. I’ve also shifted my REST web services here

Joerg has made a nice blog post on the use of Open Source software and data to analyse the occurence of antithrombotics. More specifically he was trying to answer the question

Which XRay ligands are closest to the Fontaine et al. structure-activity relationship data for allowing structure-based drug design?

using Blue Obelisk tools and ChemSpider and where Fontaine et al. refers to the Fontaine Factor Xa dataset. You should read his post for a nice analysis of the problem. I just wanted to consider two points he had raised.

Continue Reading »

I recently described a REST based service for performing PCA-based visualization of chemical spaces. By visiting a URL of the form


one would get a HTML, plain text or JSON page containing the first two principal components for the molecules specified. With this data one can generate a simple 2D plot of the distributions of molecules in the “default” chemical space.

However, as Andrew Lang pointed out on FriendFeed, one could use SecondLife to look at 3D versions of the PCA results. So I updatesd the service to allow one to specify the number of components in the URL. The above form of the service will still work – you get the first two components by default.

To specify more components use an URL of the form


where mol1, mol2, mol3 etc should be valid SMILES strings. The above URL will return the first three PC’s. To get just the first PC, replace the 3 with 1 and so on. If more components are requested than available, all components are returned.

Currently, the only available space is the “default” space which is 4-dimensional, so you can get a maximum of four components. In general, visit the URL


to obtain a list of currently available chemical spaces, their names and dimensionality.


While it’s easy to get all the components and visualize them, it doesn’t always make sense to do so. In general, one should consider those initial principal components that explain a significant portion of the variance (see Kaisers criterion). The service currently doesn’t provide the eigenvalues, so it’s not really possible to decide whether to go to 3, 4 or more components. For most cases, just looking at the first two principal components will sufficient – especially given the currently available chemical space.

Update (Jan 13, 2009)

Since the descriptor service now requires that Base64 encoded SMILES, the example usage URL is now invalid. Instead, the SMILES should be replaced by their encoded versions. In other words the first URL above becomes


The ONSChallenge has been running for some time now and the simple web query form that tied in the data from Google Docs along with web services from IU has turned out to be pretty handy. With more and more data becoming available, I had done some initial exploratory analysis of the measured solubilities. One thing that is useful to the experimentalists is a suggestion of which compound to test next. This could be made on the basis of many factors – availability, ease of synthesis and so on. But one way to look at it is to examine what types of compounds have been tested previously, and suggest that the subsequent compounds be very different from those that have been tested.

Continue Reading »