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Many Promising Smells.

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Many Promising Smells
The Pherobase is a unique, free database that contains information about
pheromones and other semiochemicals
(behavior-modifying compounds) in
various insect species. The website is
extensively linked and very userfriendly. It is clearly based on the old
Pheronet database, which contained
information on the pheromones of
moths, the most commercially important
group of insects. The pheronet was complete until 2000 and is still online, but
suffers from the retirement of some of
its founders. Surprisingly, no account of
this older databank is made by the
author of Pherobase, Dr. Ashraf M. ElSayed, of the New Zealand national
research institute HortResearch. The
scope has been widened, including not
only insect sources but other orders
such as arachnids, fish, and even bacteria. Currently there are over 10 000
entries with 3000 compounds, making it
the worlds largest database of behavior-modifying chemicals.
The information in Pherobase can
be searched in two main ways. First,
one can search for compounds that are
used by a certain species for chemical
communication. The results page shows
the species, sometimes with a picture,
and a list of references with abbreviations of the identified compounds
(Figure 1). A click on any of the words
marked in dark red brings the reader
to another page with more information
on the compound, the journal, or the
author, for example. A list of identified
compounds, their relative proportions,
their biological activities, and sometimes
the region of the investigation are listed
following each reference. Below this list,
a full bibliographic reference is given,
which is of great value for the user. In
Figure 1. Pheromones of the European corn borer.
the reverse search direction, one can
search for species that produce or
(Figure 2). The structure is prominently
shown next to an animated 3D rendering that operates through the Chime
plug-in. Below these windows, a list of
species is shown, and links to synthesis
citations and MS data of more than
1500 compounds are given. Clearly the
database is in a constant state of expansion from their core inventory of insects.
Unfortunately, some serious drawbacks diminish the positive impression
after a while. Some links between compounds and species are clearly wrong,
some structure names are incorrect or
their structures are not properly
depicted, and activities are not always
carefully listed. Furthermore, the 3D
Figure 2. The pheromone (Z)-5-decen-1-ol.
2005 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
DOI: 10.1002/anie.200501584
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2005, 44, 4118 – 4119
structures seem to be arbitrary because
some molecules adopt very improbable
conformations, and the classification of
compounds is sometimes surprising.
Lactones are found under cyclic esters,
but butanolides are listed as furans. An
important point to consider is that a critical evaluation of data cannot take
place, and is especially outside the
scope of such a database. It is therefore
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2005, 44, 4118 – 4119
the responsibility of the user to check
whether a reported pheromone identification is still valid and has not since
been shown to be incorrect.
Despite these words of caution, the
author should be congratulated for starting such a formidable task. It is surprising to observe how much information
can be obtained from the entries of
people working in chemical ecology
and other fields. Pherobank gives chemists, biologists, and other users intuitive
access to a wealth of information.
Stefan Schulz
Technische Universitt Braunschweig
For more information, visit:
or contact
2005 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
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many, smell, promising
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