Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New evidence on the robustness of metabolic networks

Biological systems are constantly evolving in ways that increase their fitness for survival amidst environmental fluctuations and internal errors.

Now, in a study of cell metabolism, a Northwestern University research team has found new evidence that evolution has produced cell metabolisms that are especially well suited to handle potentially harmful changes like gene deletions and mutations.

The results, published online this week in the journal PNAS, could be useful in areas where researchers want to manipulate metabolic network structure, such as in bioengineering and medicine, and in the design of robust synthetic networks for use in energy production and distribution networks and in critical infrastructures, such as transportation networks.

The research was led by Julio M. Ottino, dean of the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and Walter P. Murphy Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering. Other authors of the paper, titled "Cascading failure and robustness in metabolic networks," are Luís A. Nunes Amaral, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering, and lead author Ashley Smart, who recently received his doctoral degree from Northwestern and is now a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology.

Cell metabolism is essentially a large network of reactions whose purpose is to convert nutrients into products and energy. Because the network is highly interconnected, it is possible for a single reaction failure (which may be precipitated by a gene deletion or mutation) to initiate a cascade that affects several other reactions in the system. This event could be likened to disturbing a small area of snow that may trigger a large avalanche or the failure of a single transmission line in an electric power grid that may cause a widespread blackout.

By measuring the size of these "cascade" events in simulated metabolic networks, the Northwestern researchers were able to develop a quantitative measure of metabolic robustness: the more robust the network, the less the probability that small disturbances produce large cascades.

They found that the likelihood of large failure cascades in a metabolic network is unusually small, compared to what they would expect from comparable, randomly structured networks.

In other words, these metabolic networks have evolved to be exceptionally robust, adopting organizational structures that help minimize the potentially harmful impacts of gene deletions and mutations. Ottino and his colleagues developed a mathematical model describing the cascading failure phenomenon as a percolation-like process.

The cascading failure model opens up new possibilities for developing math- and statistics-based descriptions of how network structure affects metabolic function in biological systems. The relationship between metabolic structure and function is an important, lingering question for researchers in areas such as bioengineering and disease treatment in medicine, where one goal is to manipulate metabolic network structure in order to obtain desired behaviors.

The Northwestern team concludes it is possible that nature, in this case, is the best teacher: improved understanding of how cell metabolisms have evolved to handle failure cascades may provide clues as to how one might design synthetic networks for similar robustness.

Megan Fellman | EurekAlert!
Further information:

Further reports about: CASCADE Mutation metabolic metabolism reaction robustness structure

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>