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Evolution of Metabolic Networks: A Computational Framework

Christoph Flamm, Alexander Ullrich, Heinz Ekker, Martin Mann, Daniel Högerl, Markus Rohrschneider, Sebastian Sauer, Gerik Scheuermann, Konstantin Klemm, Ivo L. Hofacker, Peter F. Stadler

submitted to:
J Sys Chem

Background: The metabolic architectures of extant organisms share many key pathways such as the citric acid cycle, glycolysis, or the biosynthesis of most amino acids. Several competing hypotheses for the evolutionary mechanisms that shape metabolic networks have been discussed in the literature, each of which finds support from comparative analysis of extant genomes. Alternatively, the principles of metabolic evolution can be studied by direct computer simulation. This requires, however, an explicit implementation of all pertinent components: a universe of chemical reaction upon which the metabolism is built, an explicit representation of the enzymes that implement the metabolism, of a genetic system that encodes these enzymes, and of a fitness function that can be selected for. Results: We describe here a simulation environment that implements all these components in a simplified ways so that large-scale evolutionary studies are feasible. We employ an artificial chemistry that views chemical reactions as graph rewriting operations and utilizes a toy-version of quantum chemistry to derive thermodynamic parameters. Minimalist organisms with simple string encoded genomes produce model ribozymes whose catalytic activity is determined by an ad hoc mapping between their secondary structure and the transition state graphs that they stabilize. Fitness is computed utilizing the ideas of metabolic flux analysis. We present an implementation of the complete system and first simulation results. Conclusions: The simulation system presented here allows coherent investigations into the evolutionary mechanisms of the first steps of metabolic evolution using a self-consistent toy universe.

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Last modified: 2008-10-22 12:23:11 fall