Computational Methods for Reconstruction and Analysis of Genome-Scale Metabolic Networks

Event type: 
Defence of thesis
Doctoral dissertation
Esa Pitkänen
professor Jacques van Helden
professor Esko Ukkonen
Event time: 
12.11.2010 - 12:00 - 14:00
Main building, auditorium XII

Esa Pitkänen will defend his thesis "Computational Methods for Reconstruction and Analysis of Genome-Scale Metabolic Networks" on 12 Nov 2010 at 12 noon in the Main building, auditorium XII. His opponent is Professor Jacques van Helden (Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgia) and custos Professor Esko Ukkonen.


Metabolism is the cellular subsystem responsible for generation of energy from nutrients and production of building blocks for larger macromolecules. Computational and statistical modeling of metabolism is vital to many disciplines including bioengineering, the study of diseases, drug target identification, and understanding the evolution of metabolism. In this thesis, we propose efficient computational methods for metabolic modeling. The techniques presented are targeted particularly at the analysis of large metabolic models encompassing the whole metabolism of one or several organisms. We concentrate on three major themes of metabolic modeling: metabolic pathway analysis, metabolic reconstruction and the study of evolution of metabolism.

In the first part of this thesis, we study metabolic pathway analysis. We propose a novel modeling framework called gapless modeling to study biochemically viable metabolic networks and pathways. In addition, we investigate the utilization of atom-level information on metabolism to improve the quality of pathway analyses. We describe efficient algorithms for discovering both gapless and atom-level metabolic pathways, and conduct experiments with large-scale metabolic networks. The presented gapless approach offers a compromise in terms of complexity and feasibility between the previous graph-theoretic and stoichiometric approaches to metabolic modeling. Gapless pathway analysis shows that microbial metabolic networks are not as robust to random damage as suggested by previous studies. Furthermore the amino acid biosynthesis pathways of the fungal species Trichoderma reesei discovered from atom-level data are shown to closely correspond to those of Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

In the second part, we propose computational methods for metabolic reconstruction in the gapless modeling framework. We study the task of reconstructing a metabolic network that does not suffer from connectivity problems. Such problems often limit the usability of reconstructed models, and typically require a significant amount of manual postprocessing. We formulate gapless metabolic reconstruction as an optimization problem and propose an efficient divide-and-conquer strategy to solve it with real-world instances. We also describe computational techniques for solving problems stemming from ambiguities in metabolite naming. These techniques have been implemented in a web-based sofware ReMatch intended for reconstruction of models for 13C metabolic flux analysis.

In the third part, we extend our scope from single to multiple metabolic networks and propose an algorithm for inferring gapless metabolic networks of ancestral species from phylogenetic data. Experimenting with 16 fungal species, we show that the method is able to generate results that are easily interpretable and that provide hypotheses about the evolution of metabolism.

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