Fast thermodynamically constrained flux variability analysis

Bioinformatics. 2013 Apr 1;29(7):903-9. doi: 10.1093/bioinformatics/btt059. Epub 2013 Feb 6.


Motivation: Flux variability analysis (FVA) is an important tool to further analyse the results obtained by flux balance analysis (FBA) on genome-scale metabolic networks. For many constraint-based models, FVA identifies unboundedness of the optimal flux space. This reveals that optimal flux solutions with net flux through internal biochemical loops are feasible, which violates the second law of thermodynamics. Such unbounded fluxes may be eliminated by extending FVA with thermodynamic constraints.

Results: We present a new algorithm for efficient flux variability (and flux balance) analysis with thermodynamic constraints, suitable for analysing genome-scale metabolic networks. We first show that FBA with thermodynamic constraints is NP-hard. Then we derive a theoretical tractability result, which can be applied to metabolic networks in practice. We use this result to develop a new constraint programming algorithm Fast-tFVA for fast FVA with thermodynamic constraints (tFVA). Computational comparisons with previous methods demonstrate the efficiency of the new method. For tFVA, a speed-up of factor 30-300 is achieved. In an analysis of genome-scale metabolic networks in the BioModels database, we found that in 485 of 716 networks, additional irreversible or fixed reactions could be detected.

Availability and implementation: Fast-tFVA is written in C++ and published under GPL. It uses the open source software SCIP and libSBML. There also exists a Matlab interface for easy integration into Matlab. Fast-tFVA is available from

Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Genome
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways* / genetics
  • Models, Biological
  • Software
  • Thermodynamics*