DOCK Blaster:FAQ

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DOCK Blaster is a free virtual screening service. These are the frequently asked questions. Questions that take more than a few lines deserve their own wiki article.


What is DOCK Blaster?

DOCK Blaster is a free web-based service for molecular docking and virtual screening. It uses UCSF DOCK 3.5.54 as a docking engine, and ZINC as a dockable database. It runs entirely on the computer cluster in the Shoichet Lab at Mission Bay in San Francisco. The graphical user interface comprises an expert system that is designed to help guide both novices and experts to useful results.

Is DOCK Blaster formally described in a paper? How to cite?

The performance of DOCK Blaster against benchmarking data is described in Irwin, Shoichet, Mysinger et al., "Automated docking screens: a feasibility study", J. Med. Chem (2009), in press. The documentation of the interface and the software that runs it is documented on this wiki.

Why DOCK Blaster? Docking programs have been around for ages. What's new?

We aim to serve a constituency of investigators who would like to use docking to discover new ligands for their targets, but find the barriers to setting up their own computational lab prevent them from doing so. Experts are still welcome to use DOCK Blaster, of course. But we are really aiming to serve biologists who seek new chemistry for their biological targets.

How do I use DOCK Blaster?

Please see What you need to start.

How much does DOCK Blaster cost to use?

DOCK Blaster is free. It is supported by the US National Institutes of Health via grant GM71896 (to JJI and BKS). We reserve the right to limit usage by intensive users.

I am having trouble using DOCK Blaster

If you began by uploaded a receptor file, aka "Start with a structure", by far the most common problem is with the formatting of the files. We recommend reading this and also looking at some examples and also sample data.

If you began with a PDB code, aka "Start with a PDB Code", by far the most common problem is that there is no single identifiable ligand in the file. If this is the case, you need to download the PDB file yourself, and, specifying the binding site, use the "Start with a structure" starting point.

If you used "I'm feeling lucky", and you are having problems, we regret that you were not more lucky. We suggest trying "I'm feeling lucky" a couple of more times, and perhaps your luck will change.

More detailed information about problems may be found here:

  • Problems page for a general overview of all problems.
  • Bugs page for information about bugs. Please report bugs to support at

Can DOCK Blaster be trusted?

Please see this.

I think DOCK Blaster has crashed

Please read this.

I have privacy concerns about my data

Please see our Privacy Policy

DOCK Blaster is reporting a problem with which I disagree

Please write to support at explaining the problem.

DOCK Blaster made completely wrong suggestions for my target

DOCK Blaster is a research tool that aims to help people discover new ligands. Unfortunately, docking can fail for many reasons, as documented by an extensive literature. Our benchmarking studies (Irwin et al, J Med Chem, 2009) suggest that black box docking works on perhaps 18% of eligible targets. Thus there is a rather high probability that your target is not among the successful ones. Finally, it is important to remain skeptical of any docking results, whether they are produced by an expert or a machine like DOCK Blaster.

Is there any evidence that DOCK Blaster works?

DOCK Blaster uses the same docking technology (DOCK 3.5.54) and database technology (ZINC) as is used in the Shoichet Lab for all their publications. Furthermore, the DUD paper (JMC 2006). Furthermore, the DOCK Blaster paper (to appear).

What is your motivation to create and support DOCK Blaster?

We felt that many investigators who would like to use virtual screening were not using it because of several barriers to entry. We hope that DOCK Blaster will fill an niche and give access to this technology to investigators who previously were put off by the requirements to set up a docking laboratory.

Can I get my own private copy of DOCK Blaster?

If we get enough interest, we may be able to license DOCK Blaster technology. Please contact us to express your interest.

Does DOCK Blaster work better on some targets than on others?

Yes. Now, which ones? The DOCK Blaster paper will explain this for 100 test systems.

How long does DOCK Blaster take?

Overall, we aim to get you preliminary results in an hour or. Big database docking typically takes a day or so, depending on many factors. Throughput depends on the load on our servers. Thank you for your patience!

More information here: DOCK Blaster:Timings

What do DOCK Blaster results mean?

Top scoring hits are computer generate predictions of small molecules that might bind to your protein. Our success rate against actual drug targets is on the order of 5% or less, typically. Sometimes it is zero percent! Typically, we purchase 50 compounds that we like from the top 500 for experimental testing, and typically, we find a few that bind in the micromolar range.

Can I used DOCK Blaster with a different docking program?

Currently, DOCK Blaster only supports DOCK 3.5.54. It has not escaped our notice that the overall system may be appropriate for other docking engines. If this option interests you, please write us, making the case for a particular docking program.

Can I used DOCK Blaster with a different database of small molecules?

Yes, there are four ways to pick database subsets to dock.

  • our preferred subsets
  • annotated subsets
  • uploaded subsets
  • user-created subsets

We recommend the use of the "fragment-like" and "mini-lead-like" subsets of ZINC.

Why is it called "DOCK Blaster"?

The name is a tribute to BLAST, the famous sequence alignment and searching tool of NCBI. And of course DOCK. If you have a better name, let us know, there is a prize. ;-)

What is the history of DOCK Blaster?

  • DOCK Blaster originates in the docking protocol used in Tack (I.D.) Kuntz's lab 1982-1993
  • Brian K. Shoichet modified the protocol (and DOCK!) 1989-2000
  • David M. Lorber wrote the first MakeDOCK script in 2000.
  • Binqing Wei made contributions and refinements in 2001
  • Austin N. Kirschner wrote several scripts in 2002.
  • Niu Huang did DUD (2004-2006), and made improvements
  • Preliminary work on DOCK Blaster began in 2000 by John Irwin
  • The lab has been using DOCK Blaster tools, including the GUI, since summer 2003.
  • Full alpha testing (20+ users, 4 continents) in March 2007.
  • Able to "do DUD" in September 2007.
  • Beta release in October 2007 (20-100 users).
  • The first full release (and thus the start of version 2) may be in Jan 08.

Preparer / Scrutinizer Questions

Calibration Questions

Docking Questions

Results Browser and Interpretation Questions

I have a question that is not listed here...

Please use 'search' to check the documentation, use google, or try to ask our panel of experts in the mailing list. If you still can't get an answer, please write support at