Dynamic optimization of metabolic networks coupled with gene expression

Steffen Waldherr, Diego A. Oyarzún, Alexander Bockmayr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The regulation of metabolic activity by tuning enzyme expression levels is crucial to sustain cellular growth in changing environments. Metabolic networks are often studied at steady state using constraint-based models and optimization techniques. However, metabolic adaptations driven by changes in gene expression cannot be analyzed by steady state models, as these do not account for temporal changes in biomass composition. Here we present a dynamic optimization framework that integrates the metabolic network with the dynamics of biomass production and composition. An approximation by a timescale separation leads to a coupled model of quasi-steady state constraints on the metabolic reactions, and differential equations for the substrate concentrations and biomass composition. We propose a dynamic optimization approach to determine reaction fluxes for this model, explicitly taking into account enzyme production costs and enzymatic capacity. In contrast to the established dynamic flux balance analysis, our approach allows predicting dynamic changes in both the metabolic fluxes and the biomass composition during metabolic adaptations. Discretization of the optimization problems leads to a linear program that can be efficiently solved. We applied our algorithm in two case studies: a minimal nutrient uptake network, and an abstraction of core metabolic processes in bacteria. In the minimal model, we show that the optimized uptake rates reproduce the empirical Monod growth for bacterial cultures. For the network of core metabolic processes, the dynamic optimization algorithm predicted commonly observed metabolic adaptations, such as a diauxic switch with a preference ranking for different nutrients, re-utilization of waste products after depletion of the original substrate, and metabolic adaptation to an impending nutrient depletion. These examples illustrate how dynamic adaptations of enzyme expression can be predicted solely from an optimization principle.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)469-485
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Early online date6 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jan 2015


  • Flux optimization
  • Constraint-based methods
  • Metabolic–genetic networks
  • Bacterial growth


Dive into the research topics of 'Dynamic optimization of metabolic networks coupled with gene expression'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this