Dispensability of Escherichia coli's latent pathways

Sean P. Cornelius, Joo Sang Lee, Adilson E. Motter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Gene-knockout experiments on single-cell organisms have established that expression of a substantial fraction of genes is not needed for optimal growth. This problem acquired a new dimension with the recent discovery that environmental and genetic perturbations of the bacterium Escherichia coli are followed by the temporary activation of a large number of latent metabolic pathways, which suggests the hypothesis that temporarily activated reactions impact growth and hence facilitate adaptation in the presence of perturbations. Here, we test this hypothesis computationally and find, surprisingly, that the availability of latent pathways consistently offers no growth advantage and tends, in fact, to inhibit growth after genetic perturbations. This is shown to be true even for latent pathways with a known function in alternate conditions, thus extending the significance of this adverse effect beyond apparently nonessential genes. These findings raise the possibility that latent pathway activation is in fact derivative of another, potentially suboptimal, adaptive response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3124-3129
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number8
StatePublished - Feb 22 2011


  • Complex networks
  • Flux balance analysis
  • Gene dispensability
  • Metabolic networks
  • Synthetic rescues

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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