Genome-scale reconstruction and analysis of the metabolic network in the hyperthermophilic archaeon Sulfolobus solfataricus

PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e43401. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0043401. Epub 2012 Aug 31.


We describe the reconstruction of a genome-scale metabolic model of the crenarchaeon Sulfolobus solfataricus, a hyperthermoacidophilic microorganism. It grows in terrestrial volcanic hot springs with growth occurring at pH 2-4 (optimum 3.5) and a temperature of 75-80°C (optimum 80°C). The genome of Sulfolobus solfataricus P2 contains 2,992,245 bp on a single circular chromosome and encodes 2,977 proteins and a number of RNAs. The network comprises 718 metabolic and 58 transport/exchange reactions and 705 unique metabolites, based on the annotated genome and available biochemical data. Using the model in conjunction with constraint-based methods, we simulated the metabolic fluxes induced by different environmental and genetic conditions. The predictions were compared to experimental measurements and phenotypes of S. solfataricus. Furthermore, the performance of the network for 35 different carbon sources known for S. solfataricus from the literature was simulated. Comparing the growth on different carbon sources revealed that glycerol is the carbon source with the highest biomass flux per imported carbon atom (75% higher than glucose). Experimental data was also used to fit the model to phenotypic observations. In addition to the commonly known heterotrophic growth of S. solfataricus, the crenarchaeon is also able to grow autotrophically using the hydroxypropionate-hydroxybutyrate cycle for bicarbonate fixation. We integrated this pathway into our model and compared bicarbonate fixation with growth on glucose as sole carbon source. Finally, we tested the robustness of the metabolism with respect to gene deletions using the method of Minimization of Metabolic Adjustment (MOMA), which predicted that 18% of all possible single gene deletions would be lethal for the organism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Archaea / genetics*
  • Automation
  • Biomass
  • Carbon / chemistry
  • Gene Deletion
  • Genome*
  • Genome, Archaeal*
  • Glucose / chemistry
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Glycerol / chemistry
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Genetic
  • Phenol / chemistry
  • Phenotype
  • Polysaccharides / metabolism
  • RNA / metabolism
  • Sulfolobus solfataricus / genetics*
  • Sulfolobus solfataricus / metabolism
  • Temperature


  • Polysaccharides
  • Phenol
  • RNA
  • Carbon
  • Glucose
  • Glycerol

Grants and funding

The project was performed in the course of the transnational SysMO initiative within the Sulfolobus Systemsbiology “SulfoSYS” project. Thomas Ulas was supported by the BMBF (0315004B) and Melanie Zaparty was supported by the BMBF (0315004A). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.