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Blind prediction of solvation free energies from the SAMPL4 challenge


Here, we give an overview of the small molecule hydration portion of the SAMPL4 challenge, which focused on predicting hydration free energies for a series of 47 small molecules. These gas-to-water transfer free energies have in the past proven a valuable test of a variety of computational methods and force fields. Here, in contrast to some previous SAMPL challenges, we find a relatively wide range of methods perform quite well on this test set, with RMS errors in the 1.2 kcal/mol range for several of the best performing methods. Top-performers included a quantum mechanical approach with continuum solvent models and functional group corrections, alchemical molecular dynamics simulations with a classical all-atom force field, and a single-conformation Poisson-Boltzmann approach. While 1.2 kcal/mol is still a significant error, experimental hydration free energies covered a range of nearly 20 kcal/mol, so methods typically showed substantial predictive power. Here, a substantial new focus was on evaluation of error estimates, as predicting when a computational prediction is reliable versus unreliable has considerable practical value. We found, however, that in many cases errors are substantially underestimated, and that typically little effort has been invested in estimating likely error. We believe this is an important area for further research.

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