The Kováts retention index is a dimensionless quantity that characterizes the rate at which a compound is processed through a gas chromatography column. This quantity is independent of many experimental variables and, as such, is considered a near-universal descriptor of retention time on a chromatography column. The Kováts retention indices of a large number of molecules have been determined experimentally. The "NIST 20: GC Method/Retention Index Library" database has collected and, more importantly, curated retention indices of a subset of these compounds resulting in a highly valued reference database. The experimental data in the library form an ideal data set for training machine learning models for the prediction of retention indices of unknown compounds. In this article, we describe the training of a graph neural network model to predict the Kováts retention index for compounds in the NIST library and compare this approach with previous work . We predict the Kováts retention index with a mean unsigned error of 28 index units as compared to 44, the putative best result using a convolutional neural network . The NIST library also incorporates an estimation scheme based on a group contribution approach that achieves a mean unsigned error of 114 compared to the experimental data. Our method uses the same input data source as the group contribution approach, making its application straightforward and convenient to apply to existing libraries. Our results convincingly demonstrate the predictive powers of systematic, data-driven approaches leveraging deep learning methodologies applied to chemical data and for the data in the NIST 20 library outperform previous models.
Keywords: Gas chromatography; Graph neural network; Kováts retention index; Machine learning.
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