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PLoS Biol. 2005 Jul;3(7):e228. Epub 2005 Jun 28.

The evolution of connectivity in metabolic networks.

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Computational Laboratory, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.


Processes in living cells are the result of interactions between biochemical compounds in highly complex biochemical networks. It is a major challenge in biology to understand causes and consequences of the specific design of these networks. A characteristic design feature of metabolic networks is the presence of hub metabolites such as ATP or NADH that are involved in a high number of reactions. To study the emergence of hub metabolites, we implemented computer simulations of a widely accepted scenario for the evolution of metabolic networks. Our simulations indicate that metabolic networks with a large number of highly specialized enzymes may evolve from a few multifunctional enzymes. During this process, enzymes duplicate and specialize, leading to a loss of biochemical reactions and intermediary metabolites. Complex features of metabolic networks such as the presence of hubs may result from selection of growth rate if essential biochemical mechanisms are considered. Specifically, our simulations indicate that group transfer reactions are essential for the emergence of hubs.

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