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PLoS Comput Biol. 2012;8(10):e1002720. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002720. Epub 2012 Oct 11.

Functional modules, structural topology, and optimal activity in metabolic networks.

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Centro de Ciencias Genómicas-UNAM, Col. Chamilpa, Cuernavaca, Morelos, México.


Modular organization in biological networks has been suggested as a natural mechanism by which a cell coordinates its metabolic strategies for evolving and responding to environmental perturbations. To understand how this occurs, there is a need for developing computational schemes that contribute to integration of genomic-scale information and assist investigators in formulating biological hypotheses in a quantitative and systematic fashion. In this work, we combined metabolome data and constraint-based modeling to elucidate the relationships among structural modules, functional organization, and the optimal metabolic phenotype of Rhizobium etli, a bacterium that fixes nitrogen in symbiosis with Phaseolus vulgaris. To experimentally characterize the metabolic phenotype of this microorganism, we obtained the metabolic profile of 220 metabolites at two physiological stages: under free-living conditions, and during nitrogen fixation with P. vulgaris. By integrating these data into a constraint-based model, we built a refined computational platform with the capability to survey the metabolic activity underlying nitrogen fixation in R. etli. Topological analysis of the metabolic reconstruction led us to identify modular structures with functional activities. Consistent with modular activity in metabolism, we found that most of the metabolites experimentally detected in each module simultaneously increased their relative abundances during nitrogen fixation. In this work, we explore the relationships among topology, biological function, and optimal activity in the metabolism of R. etli through an integrative analysis based on modeling and metabolome data. Our findings suggest that the metabolic activity during nitrogen fixation is supported by interacting structural modules that correlate with three functional classifications: nucleic acids, peptides, and lipids. More fundamentally, we supply evidence that such modular organization during functional nitrogen fixation is a robust property under different environmental conditions.

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