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Bridging the Gap: Linking Molecular Simulations and Systemic Descriptions of Cellular Compartments

Tihamér Geyer, Xavier Mol, Sarah Blaß, Volkhard Helms
PLoS ONE 5(11): e14070 (2010)

Abstract: Metabolic processes in biological cells are commonly either characterized at the level of individual enzymes and metabolites or at the network level. Often these two paradigms are considered as mutually exclusive because concepts from neither side are suited to describe the complete range of scales. Additionally, when modeling metabolic or regulatory cellular systems, often a large fraction of the required kinetic parameters are unknown. This even applies to such simple and extensively studied systems like the photosynthetic apparatus of purple bacteria.

Using the chromatophore vesicles of Rhodobacter sphaeroides as a model system, we show that a consistent kinetic model emerges when fitting the dynamics of a molecular stochastic simulation to a set of time dependent experiments even though about two thirds of the kinetic parameters in this system are not known from experiment. Those kinetic parameters that were previously known all came out in the expected range. The simulation model was built from independent protein units composed of elementary reactions processing single metabolites. This pools-and-proteins approach naturally compiles the wealth of available molecular biological data into a systemic model and can easily be extended to describe other systems by adding new protein or nucleic acid types. The automated parameter optimization, performed with an evolutionary algorithm, reveals the sensitivity of the model to the value of each parameter and the relative importances of the experiments used. Such an analysis identifies the crucial system parameters and guides the setup of new experiments that would add most knowledge for a systemic understanding of cellular compartments.

The successful combination of the molecular model and the systemic parametrization presented here on the example of the simple machinery for bacterial photosynthesis shows that it is actually possible to combine molecular and systemic modeling. This framework can now straightforwardly be applied to other currently less well characterized but biologically more relevant systems.

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