Open Access Research article

Convergent evolution of modularity in metabolic networks through different community structures

Wanding Zhou1 and Luay Nakhleh2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Bioengineering, Rice University, Houston, TX, USA

2 Department of Computer Science, Rice University, Houston, TX, USA

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012, 12:181  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-181

Published: 14 September 2012



It has been reported that the modularity of metabolic networks of bacteria is closely related to the variability of their living habitats. However, given the dependency of the modularity score on the community structure, it remains unknown whether organisms achieve certain modularity via similar or different community structures.


In this work, we studied the relationship between similarities in modularity scores and similarities in community structures of the metabolic networks of 1021 species. Both similarities are then compared against the genetic distances. We revisited the association between modularity and variability of the microbial living environments and extended the analysis to other aspects of their life style such as temperature and oxygen requirements. We also tested both topological and biological intuition of the community structures identified and investigated the extent of their conservation with respect to the taxomony.


We find that similar modularities are realized by different community structures. We find that such convergent evolution of modularity is closely associated with the number of (distinct) enzymes in the organism’s metabolome, a consequence of different life styles of the species. We find that the order of modularity is the same as the order of the number of the enzymes under the classification based on the temperature preference but not on the oxygen requirement. Besides, inspection of modularity-based communities reveals that these communities are graph-theoretically meaningful yet not reflective of specific biological functions. From an evolutionary perspective, we find that the community structures are conserved only at the level of kingdoms. Our results call for more investigation into the interplay between evolution and modularity: how evolution shapes modularity, and how modularity affects evolution (mainly in terms of fitness and evolvability). Further, our results call for exploring new measures of modularity and network communities that better correspond to functional categorizations.