Properties of metabolic graphs: biological organization or representation artifacts?

BMC Bioinformatics. 2011;12(1):132 DOI 10.1186/1471-2105-12-132


Journal Homepage

Journal Title: BMC Bioinformatics

ISSN: 1471-2105 (Online)

Publisher: BMC

LCC Subject Category: Medicine: Medicine (General): Computer applications to medicine. Medical informatics | Science: Biology (General)

Country of publisher: United Kingdom

Language of fulltext: English

Full-text formats available: PDF, HTML



Nakhleh Luay

Zhou Wanding


Blind peer review

Editorial Board

Instructions for authors

Time From Submission to Publication: 19 weeks


Abstract | Full Text

<p>Abstract</p> <p>Background</p> <p>Standard graphs, where each edge links two nodes, have been extensively used to represent the connectivity of metabolic networks. It is based on this representation that properties of metabolic networks, such as hierarchical and small-world structures, have been elucidated and null models have been proposed to derive biological organization hypotheses. However, these graphs provide a simplistic model of a metabolic network's connectivity map, since metabolic reactions often involve more than two reactants. In other words, this map is better represented as a hypergraph. Consequently, a question that naturally arises in this context is whether these properties truly reflect biological organization or are merely an artifact of the representation.</p> <p>Results</p> <p>In this paper, we address this question by reanalyzing topological properties of the metabolic network of <it>Escherichia coli </it>under a hypergraph representation, as well as standard graph abstractions. We find that when clustering is properly defined for hypergraphs and subsequently used to analyze metabolic networks, the scaling of clustering, and thus the hierarchical structure hypothesis in metabolic networks, become unsupported. Moreover, we find that incorporating the distribution of reaction sizes into the null model further weakens the support for the scaling patterns.</p> <p>Conclusions</p> <p>These results combined suggest that the reported scaling of the clustering coefficients in the metabolic graphs and its specific power coefficient may be an artifact of the graph representation, and may not be supported when biochemical reactions are atomically treated as hyperedges. This study highlights the implications of the way a biological system is represented and the null model employed on the elucidated properties, along with their support, of the system.</p>