Open Access Open Badges Research article

A computational exploration of bacterial metabolic diversity identifying metabolic interactions and growth-efficient strain communities

Eleftheria Tzamali12*, Panayiota Poirazi3, Ioannis G Tollis12 and Martin Reczko45*

Author Affiliations

1 Computer Science Department, University of Crete, P.O. Box 2208, Heraklion, 71409, Greece

2 Institute of Computer Science, Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas (FORTH), N. Plastira 100, Vassilika Vouton, Heraklion, 70013, Greece

3 Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas (FORTH), N. Plastira 100, Vassilika Vouton, Heraklion, 70013, Greece

4 Institute of Molecular Oncology, Biomedical Sciences Research Center "Alexander Fleming", P.O. Box 74145, Varkiza, 16602, Greece

5 Synaptic Ltd., N. Plastira 100, Vassilika Vouton, 70013, Heraklion, Greece

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BMC Systems Biology 2011, 5:167  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-5-167

Published: 18 October 2011



Metabolic interactions involve the exchange of metabolic products among microbial species. Most microbes live in communities and usually rely on metabolic interactions to increase their supply for nutrients and better exploit a given environment. Constraint-based models have successfully analyzed cellular metabolism and described genotype-phenotype relations. However, there are only a few studies of genome-scale multi-species interactions. Based on genome-scale approaches, we present a graph-theoretic approach together with a metabolic model in order to explore the metabolic variability among bacterial strains and identify and describe metabolically interacting strain communities in a batch culture consisting of two or more strains. We demonstrate the applicability of our approach to the bacterium E. coli across different single-carbon-source conditions.


A different diversity graph is constructed for each growth condition. The graph-theoretic properties of the constructed graphs reflect the inherent high metabolic redundancy of the cell to single-gene knockouts, reveal mutant-hubs of unique metabolic capabilities regarding by-production, demonstrate consistent metabolic behaviors across conditions and show an evolutionary difficulty towards the establishment of polymorphism, while suggesting that communities consisting of strains specifically adapted to a given condition are more likely to evolve. We reveal several strain communities of improved growth relative to corresponding monocultures, even though strain communities are not modeled to operate towards a collective goal, such as the community growth and we identify the range of metabolites that are exchanged in these batch co-cultures.


This study provides a genome-scale description of the metabolic variability regarding by-production among E. coli strains under different conditions and shows how metabolic differences can be used to identify metabolically interacting strain communities. This work also extends the existing stoichiometric models in order to describe batch co-cultures and provides the extent of metabolic interactions in a strain community revealing their importance for growth.