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Michigan State University

How do I know which database to search for biological literature? : Home

A guide to help scientists identify the best biology literature databases to use for their particular topic or field of study.

Biology Literature Databases

Also see related:   PubMed, Web of Science, or Google Scholar? A behind-the-scenes guide for life scientists


Subject Coverage
Format coverage
Years covered online--MSU



Medline on ISI platform

This database from the National Library of Medicine covers not only clinical medicine but also many areas of biology including biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics, physiology, microbiology, immunology, etc, and is the most heavily used database for these kind of biologists. Coverage even includes plant biochemistry and molecular biology.

PubMed is the preferred platform for research biologists because it contains many additional links to databases from the National Center for Biotechnology Information. 

The ISI platform offers the ability to search other databases (like Web of Science and Biological Abstracts) simultaneously with Medline.

journals only 1966-present

Biological Abstracts (BA)

Covers all areas of biological sciences including areas not covered by PubMed/Medlin such as ecology, plant sciences, zoology, or wildlife literature. Not updated as frequently as Medline and coverage of some biomedical journals not as good as Medline. journals only 1926-present
Web of Science Covers all areas of science and therefore spans the literature from ecology to plant science to genetics to biochemistry to chemistry to medicine. Very good one-stop source for biologists whose work spans several of these areas.  Contains citation counts for articles.  journals only 1900-present




Similar to Web of Science, Scopus is an interdisciplinary database covering all of the sciences.  Whereas Web of Science is selective in choosing the "best journals", Scopus is more comprehensive and is the largest database.  It does not go back as far in time as Web of Science.  Also contains citation counts for articles back to 1996.  journals, some conference proceedings coverage for journals varies, citation information only back to 1996
CAB Abstracts This British database covers agriculture, veterinary science, animal science, and some basic biological journals (to a lesser extent). Biology coverage not as good as Web of Science or BA, but it does cover proceedings literature not covered in either of those. journals, book chapters, reports, proceedings 1910-present
Agricola From the National Agricultural Library, this database covers the agricultural literature including plant sciences, government documents, and some general biological literature. Less complete than BA in covering plant science or other biology journals, but does cover book literature and land grant extension publications not covered by BA, Medline or CAB journals, book chapters, reports 1970-present
Sci Finder Scholar This is the online version of Chemical Abstracts, but also allows searching of Medline separately or at the same time. Very useful for biochemists who also want to search the chemical literature not covered by Medline. Also it's the only one of these online databases that goes back to the very beginning of its print indexing. journals, book chapters, reports, proceedings, patents, and dissertations 1907-present
Aquatic Science and Fisheries Abstracts Covers the fields of aquatic organisms, fisheries, aquaculture, marine biotechnology, etc. Includes journals, books, proceedings, and reports. journals, book chapters, reports, proceedings 1978-present
Zoological Record From the Zoological Society of London, indexes the zoological literature from ecology, wildlife management, and evolution to behavior, physiology, breeding, and diseases. Best for non-laboratory studies. For laboratory research, use Biological Abstracts instead. journals, book chapters, reports, proceedings 1978-present

Subject Guide