The UM-BBD Predictive Biodegradation Workshop

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On June 20th, at the University of Minnesota, we convened a panel to discuss the computerized prediction of biodegradative metabolism. This panel was composed of participants from a wide array of disciplines including: metabolism, microbiology, molecular biology, computational chemistry and artificial intelligence. Why did we do this and what did we want to accomplish?

Chemical companies, government regulators, and academic scientists all need to predict the metabolic fate of new chemicals in the environment. Like predicting the weather, the outcome does not have to be 100% accurate to be useful. Many large chemical and materials industries employ experts to predict the chemical and biological degradability of compounds they presently sell or may sell in the future.

The biodegradability knowledge needed includes the rate and pathways of biodegradation. The knowledge required to predict biodegradation pathways with high accuracy is very broad, beyond that of any single human being. Experts make these predictions using the scientific literature, unpublished knowledge, and (perhaps unconscious) heuristic rules on how to apply this knowledge.

It was the goal of the Biodegradation Prediction Workshop to begin to capture the expert knowledge of the world's foremost authorities on the biodegradation pathways of organic compounds and decide on the appropriate computer representation of this knowledge.

At this conference, we discussed the feasibility of a predictive system in the following ways:

We appreciate the efforts of the panel members who took the time to work on this project. With over ten million organic compounds known and solid biodegradation information available for perhaps 0.05% of them, our collective ignorance is great. It is in this context that we at Minnesota think that this concerted effort will really make an impact. We hope that we have all learned from each other as we have worked to collectively attain goals that would be beyond any one person.

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