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PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e50798. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0050798. Epub 2012 Nov 30.

Chemoinformatic analysis of GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) flavor chemicals and natural products.

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Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies, Port St. Lucie, Florida, United States of America.


Food materials designated as "Generally Recognized as Safe" (GRAS) are attracting the attention of researchers in their attempts to systematically identify compounds with putative health-related benefits. In particular, there is currently a great deal of interest in exploring possible secondary benefits of flavor ingredients, such as those relating to health and wellness. One step in this direction is the comprehensive characterization of the chemical structures contained in databases of flavoring substances. Herein, we report a comprehensive analysis of the recently updated FEMA GRAS list of flavoring substances (discrete chemical entities only). Databases of natural products, approved drugs and a large set of commercial molecules were used as references. Remarkably, natural products continue to be an important source of bioactive compounds for drug discovery and nutraceutical purposes. The comparison of five collections of compounds of interest was performed using molecular properties, rings, atom counts and structural fingerprints. It was found that the molecular size of the GRAS flavoring substances is, in general, smaller cf. members of the other databases analyzed. The lipophilicity profile of the GRAS database, a key property to predict human bioavailability, is similar to approved drugs. Several GRAS chemicals overlap to a broad region of the property space occupied by drugs. The GRAS list analyzed in this work has high structural diversity, comparable to approved drugs, natural products and libraries of screening compounds. This study represents one step towards the use of the distinctive features of the flavoring chemicals contained in the GRAS list and natural products to systematically search for compounds with potential health-related benefits.

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