Metabolic flux profiling of Escherichia coli mutants in central carbon metabolism using GC-MS


U. Sauer, Institute of Biotechnology, ETH Zürich, CH-8093 Zürich, Switzerland. Fax: + 41 1 633 10 51, Tel.: + 41 1 633 36 72, E-mail:


We describe here a novel methodology for rapid diagnosis of metabolic changes, which is based on probabilistic equations that relate GC-MS-derived mass distributions in proteinogenic amino acids to in vivo enzyme activities. This metabolic flux ratio analysis by GC-MS provides a comprehensive perspective on central metabolism by quantifying 14 ratios of fluxes through converging pathways and reactions from [1-13C] and [U-13C]glucose experiments. Reliability and accuracy of this method were experimentally verified by successfully capturing expected flux responses of Escherichia coli to environmental modifications and seven knockout mutations in all major pathways of central metabolism. Furthermore, several mutants exhibited additional, unexpected flux responses that provide new insights into the behavior of the metabolic network in its entirety. Most prominently, the low in vivo activity of the Entner– Doudoroff pathway in wild-type E. coli increased up to a contribution of 30% to glucose catabolism in mutants of glycolysis and TCA cycle. Moreover, glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase mutants catabolized glucose not exclusively via glycolysis, suggesting a yet unidentified bypass of this reaction. Although strongly affected by environmental conditions, a stable balance between anaplerotic and TCA cycle flux was maintained by all mutants in the upper part of metabolism. Overall, our results provide quantitative insight into flux changes that bring about the resilience of metabolic networks to disruption.