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PLoS Comput Biol. 2007 Oct;3(10):1887-95. Epub 2007 Aug 17.

Metabolic reconstruction and modeling of nitrogen fixation in Rhizobium etli.

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Bioengineering Department, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA.


Rhizobiaceas are bacteria that fix nitrogen during symbiosis with plants. This symbiotic relationship is crucial for the nitrogen cycle, and understanding symbiotic mechanisms is a scientific challenge with direct applications in agronomy and plant development. Rhizobium etli is a bacteria which provides legumes with ammonia (among other chemical compounds), thereby stimulating plant growth. A genome-scale approach, integrating the biochemical information available for R. etli, constitutes an important step toward understanding the symbiotic relationship and its possible improvement. In this work we present a genome-scale metabolic reconstruction (iOR363) for R. etli CFN42, which includes 387 metabolic and transport reactions across 26 metabolic pathways. This model was used to analyze the physiological capabilities of R. etli during stages of nitrogen fixation. To study the physiological capacities in silico, an objective function was formulated to simulate symbiotic nitrogen fixation. Flux balance analysis (FBA) was performed, and the predicted active metabolic pathways agreed qualitatively with experimental observations. In addition, predictions for the effects of gene deletions during nitrogen fixation in Rhizobia in silico also agreed with reported experimental data. Overall, we present some evidence supporting that FBA of the reconstructed metabolic network for R. etli provides results that are in agreement with physiological observations. Thus, as for other organisms, the reconstructed genome-scale metabolic network provides an important framework which allows us to compare model predictions with experimental measurements and eventually generate hypotheses on ways to improve nitrogen fixation.

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