Theoretical study of lipid biosynthesis in wild-type Escherichia coli and in a protoplast-type L-form using elementary flux mode analysis

FEBS J. 2010 Feb;277(4):1023-34. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-4658.2009.07546.x. Epub 2010 Jan 20.


In the present study, we investigated lipid biosynthesis in the bacterium Escherichia coli by mathematical modeling. In particular, we studied the interaction between the subsystems producing unsaturated and saturated fatty acids, phospholipids, lipid A, and cardiolipin. The present analysis was carried out both for the wild-type and for several in silico knockout mutants, using the concept of elementary flux modes. Our results confirm that, in the wild type, there are four main products: L1-phosphatidylethanolamine, lipid A, lipid A (cold-adapted), and cardiolipin. We found that each of these compounds is produced on several different routes, indicating a high redundancy of the system under study. By analysis of the elementary flux modes remaining after the knockout of genes of lipid biosynthesis, and comparison with publicly available data on single-gene knockouts in vivo, we were able to determine the metabolites essential for the survival of the cell. Furthermore, we analyzed a set of mutations that occur in a cell wall-free mutant of Escherichia coli W1655F+. We postulate that the mutant is not capable of producing both forms of lipid A, when the combination of mutations is considered to make a nonfunctional pathway. This is in contrast to gene essentiality data showing that lipid A synthesis is indispensable for the survival of the cell. The loss of the outer membrane in the cell wall-free mutant, however, shows that lipid A is dispensable as the main component of the outer surface structure in this particular E. coli strain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acyltransferases / deficiency
  • Acyltransferases / genetics
  • Acyltransferases / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / enzymology
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / metabolism*
  • Gene Knockout Techniques
  • Lipids / biosynthesis*
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Mutation / genetics


  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Lipids
  • Acyltransferases