Mycobacterium tuberculosis continues to be a major pathogen in the third world, killing almost 2 million people a year by the most recent estimates. Even in industrialized countries, the emergence of multi-drug resistant (MDR) strains of tuberculosis hails the need to develop additional medications for treatment. Many of the drugs used for treatment of tuberculosis target metabolic enzymes. Genome-scale models can be used for analysis, discovery, and as hypothesis generating tools, which will hopefully assist the rational drug development process. These models need to be able to assimilate data from large datasets and analyze them.
We completed a bottom up reconstruction of the metabolic network of Mycobacterium tuberculosis H37Rv. This functional in silico bacterium, iNJ661, contains 661 genes and 939 reactions and can produce many of the complex compounds characteristic to tuberculosis, such as mycolic acids and mycocerosates. We grew this bacterium in silico on various media, analyzed the model in the context of multiple high-throughput data sets, and finally we analyzed the network in an 'unbiased' manner by calculating the Hard Coupled Reaction (HCR) sets, groups of reactions that are forced to operate in unison due to mass conservation and connectivity constraints.
Although we observed growth rates comparable to experimental observations (doubling times ranging from about 12 to 24 hours) in different media, comparisons of gene essentiality with experimental data were less encouraging (generally about 55%). The reasons for the often conflicting results were multi-fold, including gene expression variability under different conditions and lack of complete biological knowledge. Some of the inconsistencies between in vitro and in silico or in vivo and in silico results highlight specific loci that are worth further experimental investigations. Finally, by considering the HCR sets in the context of known drug targets for tuberculosis treatment we proposed new alternative, but equivalent drug targets.