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Sci Rep. 2018 Aug 21;8(1):12504. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-30884-x.

The intertwined metabolism during symbiotic nitrogen fixation elucidated by metabolic modelling.

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Institute of Complex Systems and Mathematical Biology, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK.
Life Sciences Research Unit, University of Luxembourg, Belvaux, Luxembourg.
School of Basic Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Mandi, Mandi, India.
Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.
Department Biological and Medical Sciences, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK.
Institute of Quantitative and Theoretical Biology, Cluster of Excellence on Plant Sciences CEPLAS, Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, Germany.


Genome-scale metabolic network models can be used for various analyses including the prediction of metabolic responses to changes in the environment. Legumes are well known for their rhizobial symbiosis that introduces nitrogen into the global nutrient cycle. Here, we describe a fully compartmentalised, mass and charge-balanced, genome-scale model of the clover Medicago truncatula, which has been adopted as a model organism for legumes. We employed flux balance analysis to demonstrate that the network is capable of producing biomass components in experimentally observed proportions, during day and night. By connecting the plant model to a model of its rhizobial symbiont, Sinorhizobium meliloti, we were able to investigate the effects of the symbiosis on metabolic fluxes and plant growth and could demonstrate how oxygen availability influences metabolic exchanges between plant and symbiont, thus elucidating potential benefits of inter organism amino acid cycling. We thus provide a modelling framework, in which the interlinked metabolism of plants and nodules can be studied from a theoretical perspective.

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