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PLoS One. 2018 Oct 4;13(10):e0203311. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0203311. eCollection 2018.

Feedbacks from the metabolic network to the genetic network reveal regulatory modules in E. coli and B. subtilis.

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Department of Physics and Astrophysics, University of Delhi, Delhi 110007, India.
National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, Karnataka 560065, India.
Santa Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Road, Santa Fe, NM 87501, United States of America.


The genetic regulatory network (GRN) plays a key role in controlling the response of the cell to changes in the environment. Although the structure of GRNs has been the subject of many studies, their large scale structure in the light of feedbacks from the metabolic network (MN) has received relatively little attention. Here we study the causal structure of the GRNs, namely the chain of influence of one component on the other, taking into account feedback from the MN. First we consider the GRNs of E. coli and B. subtilis without feedback from MN and illustrate their causal structure. Next we augment the GRNs with feedback from their respective MNs by including (a) links from genes coding for enzymes to metabolites produced or consumed in reactions catalyzed by those enzymes and (b) links from metabolites to genes coding for transcription factors whose transcriptional activity the metabolites alter by binding to them. We find that the inclusion of feedback from MN into GRN significantly affects its causal structure, in particular the number of levels and relative positions of nodes in the hierarchy, and the number and size of the strongly connected components (SCCs). We then study the functional significance of the SCCs. For this we identify condition specific feedbacks from the MN into the GRN by retaining only those enzymes that are essential for growth in specific environmental conditions simulated via the technique of flux balance analysis (FBA). We find that the SCCs of the GRN augmented by these feedbacks can be ascribed specific functional roles in the organism. Our algorithmic approach thus reveals relatively autonomous subsystems with specific functionality, or regulatory modules in the organism. This automated approach could be useful in identifying biologically relevant modules in other organisms for which network data is available, but whose biology is less well studied.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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