Background: Several types of networks, such as transcriptional, metabolic or protein-protein interaction networks of various organisms have been constructed, that have provided a variety of insights into metabolism and regulation. Here, we seek to exploit the reaction-based networks of three organisms for comparative genomics. We use concepts from spectral graph theory to systematically determine how differences in basic metabolism of organisms are reflected at the systems level and in the overall topological structures of their metabolic networks.
Methodology/principal findings: Metabolome-based reaction networks of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Mycobacterium leprae and Escherichia coli have been constructed based on the KEGG LIGAND database, followed by graph spectral analysis of the network to identify hubs as well as the sub-clustering of reactions. The shortest and alternate paths in the reaction networks have also been examined. Sub-cluster profiling demonstrates that reactions of the mycolic acid pathway in mycobacteria form a tightly connected sub-cluster. Identification of hubs reveals reactions involving glutamate to be central to mycobacterial metabolism, and pyruvate to be at the centre of the E. coli metabolome. The analysis of shortest paths between reactions has revealed several paths that are shorter than well established pathways.
Conclusions: We conclude that severe downsizing of the leprae genome has not significantly altered the global structure of its reaction network but has reduced the total number of alternate paths between its reactions while keeping the shortest paths between them intact. The hubs in the mycobacterial networks that are absent in the human metabolome can be explored as potential drug targets. This work demonstrates the usefulness of constructing metabolome based networks of organisms and the feasibility of their analyses through graph spectral methods. The insights obtained from such studies provide a broad overview of the similarities and differences between organisms, taking comparative genomics studies to a higher dimension.