Metabolic Synergy: Increasing Biosynthetic Capabilities by Network Cooperation

Nils Christian[1] (
Thomas Handorf[1] (
Oliver Ebenhöh[2] (

[1]Institute for Biology, Humboldt University Berlin, Germany
[2]Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology, Potsdam-Golm, Germany


Cooperation between organisms of different species is a widely observed phenomenon in biology, ranging from large scale systems such as whole ecosystems to more direct interactions like symbiotic relationships. In the present work, we explore inter-species cooperations on the level of metabolic networks. For our analysis, we extract 447 organism specific metabolic networks from the KEGG database [7] and assess their biosynthetic capabilities by applying the method of network expansion [5]. We simulate the cooperation of two organisms by unifying their metabolic networks and introduce a measure, the gain Γ, quantifying the amount by which the biosynthetic capability of an organism is enhanced due to the cooperation with another species. For all theoretically possible pairs of organisms, this synergetic effect is determined and we systematically analyze its dependency on the dissimilarities of the interacting partners. We describe these dissimilarities by two different distance measures, where one is based on structural, the other on evolutionary differences. With the presented method, we provide a conceptional framework to study the metabolic effects resulting from an interaction of different species. We outline possible enhancements of our analysis: by defining more realistic interacting networks and applying alternative structural investigation methods, our concept can be used to study specific symbiotic and parasitic relationships and may help to understand the global interplay of metabolic pathways over the boundary of organism specific systems.

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Japanese Society for Bioinformatics