Metabolic network analysis revealed distinct routes of deletion effects between essential and non-essential genes†
Interest in essential genes has arisen recently given their importance in antimicrobial drug development. Although knockouts of essential genes are commonly known to cause lethal phenotypes, there is insufficient understanding on the intermediate changes followed by genetic perturbation and to what extent essential genes correlate to other genes. Here, we characterized the gene knockout effects by using a list of affected genes, termed as ‘damage lists’. These damage lists were identified through a refined cascading failure approach that was based on a previous topological flux balance analysis. Using an Escherichia coli metabolic network, we incorporated essentiality information into damage lists and revealed that the knockout of an essential gene mainly affects a large range of other essential genes whereas knockout of a non-essential gene only interrupts other non-essential genes. Also, genes sharing common damage lists tend to have the same essentiality. We extracted 72 core functional modules from the common damage lists of essential genes and demonstrated their ability to halt essential metabolites production. Overall, our network analysis revealed that essential and non-essential genes propagated their deletion effects via distinct routes, conferring mechanistic explanation to the observed lethality phenotypes of essential genes.