Yet Another Free Chemistry Database: Pherobase

April 15, 2008

The creation of free chemical databases continues unabated. Today's entry is Pherobase, a service dedicated to documenting the relationship between chemical structures and the insect world.

Users can search Pherobase by text, or browse a large number of precompiled categories: alphabetical by genus; alphabetical by species; and compounds by genus or species. Each compound data sheet contains a wealth of data, all linked to the primary literature: mass spectrum; nmr; synthesis; and behavioral function. There's even an interactive Jmol model for each entry.

Pherobase is clearly designed to be useful to farmers and others involved in agriculture who are interested in using pheromones in pest control. Are insects eating your olive tree? Let pherobase help. Need help with fire ants? Pherobase can help there, too. Wonder what else besides Gypsy Moths might be affected by disparlure? Pherobase has the answer. And nearly all of this information is backed by references to the primary literature.

Pherobase clearly demonstrates the value of building comprehensive, focused chemical databases around a limited subject of high practical utility. After all, chemistry's most enduring contribution is in the production of useful properties, not the production of compounds.

Pherobase is also noteworthy for the way it's being used by its creator, Ashraf El-Sayed. Rather than standing on its own, Pherobase is designed to direct users to suppliers of pheromones and related pest control products by educating them about what might be possible. In this sense, Pherobase's approach offers another intriguing example of an Open Access business model that can actually work.