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Life Sciences Thesaurus

A thesaurus provides a standard language or set of terms with which to describe a subject area. Applied to indexing of a database, it indicates to a searcher which terms to use to retrieve the maximum number of relevant documents.

The thesaurus terms are used by indexers to describe the contents of publications in a consistent, comprehensive and concise manner. These terms are listed in the Descriptors field (DE=) of each record added to the database.

Using our interactive Thesaurus Search you can browse for terms via a hierarchical, alphabetical, or rotated index display. These display formats allow you to navigate the thesaurus alphabetically or through the hierarchical relationships between terms. After finding appropriate terms, you can submit a search for those terms in the database descriptor field.

Introduction | Purpose | Organization

This Fourth Edition of the Life Sciences Thesaurus contains some 9,400 descriptors used in indexing documents for the Life Sciences databases and corresponding printed abstracts journals. Over 500 new terms have been added to the Fourth Edition. It provides thorough cross-referencing among all terms, directing the user to synonyms and near-synonyms, to broader and narrower terms in the same class, and otherwise related terms.

As a new service, specialized lists of names frequently used by CSA in indexing may be requested from the Editorial Department. These lists are:

    a. Antibiotics (and other antimicrobial agents) 630 terms
    b. Enzymes 3,100 terms
    c. Hormones 160 terms
    d. Proteins 560 terms
    e. Other chemical terms 490 terms
    f. Viruses 4,100 terms

The basic terminology for the Life Sciences Thesaurus has resulted from experience in indexing over 3 million documents in biological disciplines since 1965. This Thesaurus has thus evolved hand-in-hand with the rapid growth of the literature dealing with the life sciences.

The Life Sciences Thesaurus will be updated periodically to include new terminology and other revisions based upon usage of the Thesaurus for indexing and retrieval purposes, and suggestions from users of the thesaurus will be given serious consideration. Please email comments to

Purpose of The Life Sciences Thesaurus

The Life Sciences Thesaurus should be used to identify appropriate search terms that will retrieve relevant information when searching the following databases and journals published by CSA:


    CSA Biological Sciences
    CSA Biotechnology & BioEngineering
    Life Sciences Collection

    ASFA Marine Biotechnology Abstracts
    Agricultural & Environmental Biotechnology Abstracts
    Animal Behavior Abstracts
    Calcium & Calcified Tissue Abstracts
    Chemoreception Abstracts
    CSA Neurosciences Abstracts
    Ecology Abstracts
    Entomology Abstracts
    Genetics Abstracts
    Immunology Abstracts
    Medical & Pharmaceutical Biotechnology Abstracts
    Microbiology Abstracts Section A: Industrial & Applied Microbiology
    Microbiology Abstracts Section B: Bacteriology
    Microbiology Abstracts Section C: Algology, Mycology & Protozoology
    Nucleic Acids Abstracts
    Oncogenes & Growth Factors Abstracts
    Toxicology Abstracts
    Virology & AIDS Abstracts

Organization of the Thesaurus

This thesaurus contains only the controlled subject and disease descriptors and their related terms. General details of taxonomic or chemical descriptors may be found at the end of this introduction.

The following describes the main features of this thesaurus.

1. Hierarchy of Terms

    Abbreviations used to describe the relationships between descriptors are:

    Broader Term - indicates a term which is conceptually broader in meaning than the lead-term.
    Narrower Term - indicates a term which is conceptually narrower in meaning than the lead-term.
    Related Term - indicates a term which is related in meaning to the lead-term.

2. Synonyms

    When a concept or disease has several synonyms, one descriptor has been chosen as the preferred term. This is indicated by use of the abbreviations:

    Use For

    For example:
      Abortus fever
      Use Brucellosis

This indicates abortus fever and brucellosis are synonyms of a single disease name and the term brucellosis has been chosen as the preferred term. The reciprocal entry in the thesaurus is:

    Use For Abortus fever

This indicates that any article on abortus fever will be indexed with the preferred term, brucellosis. Abortus fever is thus a forbidden term.

3. Medical Terms

    Disease names and clinical terminology generally rely on the following source reference:

    Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary
    27th Edition, published by
    W.B. Saunders Company
    218 West Washington Square
    Philadelphia, PA 19105
    ISBN 0-7216-3154-1

4. Taxonomic Terms

    Latin binomials are used to index all organisms except domestic animals, livestock, pets and laboratory animals. Family, order, or other hierarchical levels are used as necessary.

    The following source references are consulted:

      Bergey's Manual of Systematic Bacteriology
      Volume 1-4, published by
      The Williams & Wilkins Company
      428 E. Preston Street
      Baltimore, MD 21201
      ISBN 0-683-04108-8

      American Insects, A Handbook of the Insects of North America
      published by Van Nostrand Reinhold Company
      135 West 50th Street
      New York, NY 10020
      ISBN 0-442-20866-9

      Synopsis and Classification of Living Organisms
      Volumes I and 2, published by
      McGraw-Hill Book Company
      1221 Avenue of the Americas
      New York, NY 10021
      ISBN 0-07-079031-0

5. Chemicals and Macromolecules

    As far as possible, enzymes are indexed according to the 1992 IUB recommendations:

      Enzyme Nomenclature Recommendations (1992) of the Nomenclature Committee
      of the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

      published by Academic Press
      1250 Sixth Avenue
      San Diego, CA 92101-4311
      ISBN 0-12-227165-3

    Chemical names are indexed using the following source reference:

      The Merck Index
      12th Edition, published by
      Merck and Co. Inc
      Whitehouse Station, NJ
      ISBN 0911910-12-3

    Pesticide names are standardized as much as possible, using the following publication:

      The Pesticide Manual A World Compendium
      11th Edition, published by
      The British Crop Protection Council
      49 Downing Street
      Farnham, Surrey GU9 7PH, UK
      ISBN 1-901396-11-8

    As well as the specified pesticide name, the type of pesticide, e.g. fungicides, is also entered.

How to use the Life Sciences Thesaurus on CSA Illumina

There are many different approaches for finding suitable terms to use when searching the life sciences databases. One approach, especially if you are new to the thesaurus or the database(s), is to start with the Rotated Index. Enter a word that you know in the Find: box and select the Rotated Index display. If your word is a valid thesaurus term or is part of a valid term, it will be found and all terms containing the word will be displayed, as well as similar or related terms in which you may also be interested. For example, a Rotated Index display for the word Stability looks like:

Rotated Index Display

This shows the word Stability occurring in terms that represent very different concepts. It also suggests that you consider related terms for similar concepts. From this screen you can mark terms in which you are interested and search the selected databases(s) for them, by clicking on the search button on the left side of the screen.

Thesaurus Search

Or you can continue to navigate the thesaurus looking for more possible terms. Clicking on any hyperlinked term takes you to the main thesaurus display for that term. This lists all other terms that have a hierarchical (narrower or broader) or other type of relationship to your main term. In these displays, the [+] symbol immediately indicates that there are further narrower terms. In the example above, clicking on Osmosis displays:

Hierarchy Display

Starting in the Rotated Index probably provides a better overview of the range of terms used in the thesaurus. However, you can only enter a single word in the Find: box for the Rotated Index display. Phrases can be used for the Thesaurus and Alphabetical displays.

For further information about the contents of the CSA Life Sciences Thesaurus

Editorial Department
7200 Wisconsin Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814, USA
Telephone: 1-800-843-7751 (in N. America)
Telephone: +1 301-961-6750 (worldwide)
Fax: +1 301-961-6740

To order a printed version of the CSA Life Sciences Thesaurus, Fourth Edition, 1998,
ISBN 0-942189-47-7, contact:

Customer Service
7200 Wisonsin Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814, USA
Telephone: 1-800-843-7751 (in N. America)
Telephone: +1 301-961-6750 (worldwide)
Fax: +1 301-961-6708