Metabolic model-based analysis of the emergence of bacterial cross-feeding via extensive gene loss

Colin P. McNally, Elhanan Borenstein*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Metabolic dependencies between microbial species have a significant impact on the assembly and activity of microbial communities. However, the evolutionary origins of such dependencies and the impact of metabolic and genomic architecture on their emergence are not clear. Results: To address these questions, we developed a novel framework, coupling a reductive evolution model with a multi-species genome-scale metabolic model to simulate the evolution of two-species microbial communities. Simulating thousands of independent evolutionary trajectories, we surprisingly found that under certain environmental and evolutionary settings metabolic dependencies emerged frequently even though our model does not include explicit selection for cooperation. Evolved dependencies involved cross-feeding of a diverse set of metabolites, reflecting constraints imposed by metabolic network architecture. We additionally found metabolic 'missed opportunities', wherein species failed to capitalize on metabolites made available by their partners. Examining the genes deleted in each evolutionary trajectory and the deletion timing further revealed both genome-wide properties and specific metabolic mechanisms associated with species interaction. Conclusion: Our findings provide insight into the evolution of cooperative interaction among microbial species and a unique view into the way such relationships emerge.

Original languageEnglish
Article number69
JournalBMC Systems Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 15 Jun 2018
Externally publishedYes


FundersFunder number
National Institutes of Health
National Human Genome Research InstituteDP2 AT007802–01, T32 HG000035
National Institute of General Medical SciencesR01GM124312


    Dive into the research topics of 'Metabolic model-based analysis of the emergence of bacterial cross-feeding via extensive gene loss'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this