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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The human metabolic reconstruction Recon 1 directs hypotheses of novel human metabolic functions

Ottar Rolfsson1, Bernhard Ø Palsson1 and Ines Thiele12*

Author affiliations

1 Center for Systems Biology, University of Iceland, Sturlugata 8, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland

2 Faculty of Industrial Engineering, Mechanical Engineering & Computer Science, University of Iceland, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland

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Citation and License

BMC Systems Biology 2011, 5:155  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-5-155

Published: 1 October 2011

Abstract

Background

Metabolic network reconstructions formalize our knowledge of metabolism. Gaps in these networks pinpoint regions of metabolism where biological components and functions are "missing." At the same time, a major challenge in the post genomic era involves characterisation of missing biological components to complete genome annotation.

Results

We used the human metabolic network reconstruction RECON 1 and established constraint-based modelling tools to uncover novel functions associated with human metabolism. Flux variability analysis identified 175 gaps in RECON 1 in the form of blocked reactions. These gaps were unevenly distributed within metabolic pathways but primarily found in the cytosol and often caused by compounds whose metabolic fate, rather than production, is unknown. Using a published algorithm, we computed gap-filling solutions comprised of non-organism specific metabolic reactions capable of bridging the identified gaps. These candidate solutions were found to be dependent upon the reaction environment of the blocked reaction. Importantly, we showed that automatically generated solutions could produce biologically realistic hypotheses of novel human metabolic reactions such as of the fate of iduronic acid following glycan degradation and of N-acetylglutamate in amino acid metabolism.

Conclusions

The results demonstrate how metabolic models can be utilised to direct hypotheses of novel metabolic functions in human metabolism; a process that we find is heavily reliant upon manual curation and biochemical insight. The effectiveness of a systems approach for novel biochemical pathway discovery in mammals is demonstrated and steps required to tailor future gap filling algorithms to mammalian metabolic networks are proposed.