Measuring non-steady-state metabolic fluxes in starch-converting faecal microbiota in vitro

Benef Microbes. 2010 Nov;1(4):391-405. doi: 10.3920/BM2010.0038.


This paper explores human gut bacterial metabolism of starch using a combined analytical and computational modelling approach for metabolite and flux analysis. Non-steady-state isotopic labelling experiments were performed with human faecal microbiota in a well-established in vitro model of the human colon. After culture stabilisation, [U-13C] starch was added and samples were taken at regular intervals. Metabolite concentrations and 13C isotopomeric distributions were measured amongst other things for acetate, propionate and butyrate by mass spectrometry and NMR. The vast majority of metabolic flux analysis methods based on isotopomer analysis published to date are not applicable to metabolic non-steady-state experiments. We therefore developed a new ordinary differential equation-based representation of a metabolic model of human faecal microbiota to determine eleven metabolic parameters that characterised the metabolic flux distribution in the isotope labelling experiment. The feasibility of the model parameter quantification was demonstrated on noisy in silico data using a downhill simplex optimisation, matching simulated labelling patterns of isotopically labelled metabolites with measured metabolite and isotope labelling data. Using the experimental data, we determined an increasing net label influx from starch during the experiment from 94±1 µmol/l/min to 133±3 µmol/l/min. Only about 12% of the total carbon flux from starch reached propionate. Propionate production mainly proceeded via succinate with a small contribution via acrylate. The remaining flux from starch yielded acetate (35%) and butyrate (53%). Interpretation of 13C NMR multiplet signals further revealed that butyrate, valerate and caproate were mainly synthesised via cross-feeding, using acetate as a co-substrate. This study demonstrates for the first time that the experimental design and the analysis of the results by computational modelling allows the determination of time-resolved effects of nutrition on the flux distribution within human faecal microbiota in metabolic non-steady-state.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / chemistry
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Carbon Isotopes / metabolism
  • Feces / chemistry
  • Feces / microbiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / chemistry
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Isotope Labeling
  • Kinetics
  • Metagenome*
  • Starch / chemistry
  • Starch / metabolism*


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Starch