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Open Access Highly Accessed Methodology article

Predicting functional associations from metabolism using bi-partite network algorithms

Balaji Veeramani12 and Joel S Bader12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD21218, USA

2 High-Through put Biology Center, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD21205, USA

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BMC Systems Biology 2010, 4:95  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-4-95

Published: 14 July 2010



Metabolic reconstructions contain detailed information about metabolic enzymes and their reactants and products. These networks can be used to infer functional associations between metabolic enzymes. Many methods are based on the number of metabolites shared by two enzymes, or the shortest path between two enzymes. Metabolite sharing can miss associations between non-consecutive enzymes in a serial pathway, and shortest-path algorithms are sensitive to high-degree metabolites such as water and ATP that create connections between enzymes with little functional similarity.


We present new, fast methods to infer functional associations in metabolic networks. A local method, the degree-corrected Poisson score, is based only on the metabolites shared by two enzymes, but uses the known metabolite degree distribution. A global method, based on graph diffusion kernels, predicts associations between enzymes that do not share metabolites. Both methods are robust to high-degree metabolites. They out-perform previous methods in predicting shared Gene Ontology (GO) annotations and in predicting experimentally observed synthetic lethal genetic interactions. Including cellular compartment information improves GO annotation predictions but degrades synthetic lethal interaction prediction. These new methods perform nearly as well as computationally demanding methods based on flux balance analysis.


We present fast, accurate methods to predict functional associations from metabolic networks. Biological significance is demonstrated by identifying enzymes whose strong metabolic correlations are missed by conventional annotations in GO, most often enzymes involved in transport vs. synthesis of the same metabolite or other enzyme pairs that share a metabolite but are separated by conventional pathway boundaries. More generally, the methods described here may be valuable for analyzing other types of networks with long-tailed degree distributions and high-degree hubs.