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Metabolic Engineering Communications
Volume 12, 2021, e00170

Analysis of metabolic network disruption in engineered microbial hosts due to enzyme promiscuity

Vladimir Porokhina, Sara A.Amina, Trevor B.Nicksb, Venkatesh Endalur Gopinarayananb, Nikhil U.Nairb, Soha Hassounab

Department of Computer Science, Tufts University, Medford, MA, USA.


Increasing understanding of metabolic and regulatory networks underlying microbial physiology has enabled creation of progressively more complex synthetic biological systems for biochemical, biomedical, agricultural, and environmental applications. However, despite best efforts, confounding phenotypes still emerge from unforeseen interplay between biological parts, and the design of robust and modular biological systems remains elusive. Such interactions are difficult to predict when designing synthetic systems and may manifest during experimental testing as inefficiencies that need to be overcome. Transforming organisms such as Escherichia coli into microbial factories is achieved via several engineering strategies, used individually or in combination, with the goal of maximizing the production of chosen target compounds. One technique relies on suppressing or overexpressing selected genes; another involves introducing heterologous enzymes into a microbial host. These modifications steer mass flux towards the set of desired metabolites but may create unexpected interactions. In this work, we develop a computational method, termed Metabolic Disruption Workflow (MDFlow), for discovering interactions and network disruptions arising from enzyme promiscuity – the ability of enzymes to act on a wide range of molecules that are structurally similar to their native substrates. We apply MDFlow to two experimentally verified cases where strains with essential genes knocked out are rescued by interactions resulting from overexpression of one or more other genes. We demonstrate how enzyme promiscuity may aid cells in adapting to disruptions of essential metabolic functions. We then apply MDFlow to predict and evaluate a number of putative promiscuous reactions that can interfere with two heterologous pathways designed for 3-hydroxypropionic acid (3-HP) production. Using MDFlow, we can identify putative enzyme promiscuity and the subsequent formation of unintended and undesirable byproducts that are not only disruptive to the host metabolism but also to the intended end-objective of high biosynthetic productivity and yield. As we demonstrate, MDFlow provides an innovative workflow to systematically identify incompatibilities between the native metabolism of the host and its engineered modifications due to enzyme promiscuity.

Keywords: Metabolic disruption, Enzyme promiscuity, Metabolic models, Metabolic engineering, Synthetic biology, Bio design automation.

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