Detecting the Escherichia coli metabolic backbone

The heterogeneity of computationally predicted reaction fluxes in metabolic networks within a single flux state can be exploited to detect their significant flux backbone. Here, we disclose the backbone of Escherichia coli, and com- pare it with the backbones of other bacteria. We find that, in general, the core of the backbones is mainly composed of reactions in energy metabolism corresponding to ancient pathways. In E. coli, the synthesis of nucleotides and the metabolism of lipids form smaller cores which rely critically on energy metabolism. Moreover, the consideration of different media leads to the identification of pathways sensitive to environmental changes. The meta- bolic backbone of an organism is thus useful to trace simultaneously both its evolution and adaptation fingerprints.