BACKGROUND: The shape diversity of 16.4 million biologically relevant molecules from the PubChem Compound database and their 1.46 billion diverse conformers was explored as a function of molecular volume. RESULTS: The diversity of shape space was investigated by determining the shape similarity threshold to achieve a maximum on the count of reference shapes per unit of conformer volume. The rate of growth in shape space, as represented by a decreasing shape similarity threshold, was found to be remarkably smooth as a function of volume. There was no apparent correlation between the count of conformers per unit volume and their diversity, meaning that a single reference shape can describe the shape space of many chemical structures. The ability of a volume to describe the shape space of lesser volumes was also examined. It was shown that a given volume was able to describe 40-70% of the shape diversity of lesser volumes, for the majority of the volume range considered in this study. CONCLUSION: The relative growth of shape diversity as a function of volume and shape similarity is surprisingly uniform. Given the distribution of chemicals in PubChem versus what is theoretically synthetically possible, the results from this analysis should be considered a conservative estimate to the true diversity of shape space.
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