Is maximization of molar yield in metabolic networks favoured by evolution?

J Theor Biol. 2008 Jun 7;252(3):497-504. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2007.12.008. Epub 2007 Dec 23.


Stoichiometric analysis of metabolic networks allows the calculation of possible metabolic flux distributions in the absence of kinetic data. In order to predict which of the possible fluxes are present under certain conditions, additional constraints and optimization principles can be applied. One approach of calculating unknown fluxes (frequently called flux balance analysis) is based on the optimality principle of maximizing the molar yield of biotransformations. Here, the relevance and applicability of that approach are examined, and it is compared with the principle of maximizing pathway flux. We discuss diverse experimental evidence showing that, often, those biochemical pathways are operative that allow fast but low-yield synthesis of important products, such as fermentation in Saccharomyces cerevisiae and several other yeast species. Together with arguments based on evolutionary game theory, this leads us to the conclusion that maximization of molar yield is by no means a universal principle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Fermentation
  • Game Theory
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / genetics
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / physiology*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / metabolism
  • Systems Biology / methods