An environmental perspective on metabolism

J Theor Biol. 2008 Jun 7;252(3):530-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2007.10.036. Epub 2007 Nov 4.


In principle the knowledge of an organism's metabolic network allows to infer its biosynthetic capabilities. Handorf et al. [2005. Expanding metabolic networks: scopes of compounds, robustness, and evolution. J. Mol. Evol. 61, 498-512] developed a method of network expansion generating the set of all possible metabolites that can be produced from a set of compounds, given the structure of a metabolic network. Here we investigate the inverse problem: which chemical compounds or sets of compounds must be provided as external resources in order to sustain the growth or maintenance of an organism, given the structure of its metabolic network? Although this problem is highly combinatorial, we show that it is possible to calculate locally minimal nutrient sets that can be interpreted in terms of resource types. Using these types we predict broad nutritional requirements for 447 organisms, providing clues for possible environments from the knowledge of their metabolic networks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Ecosystem
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Proteobacteria / growth & development
  • Proteobacteria / metabolism*