Modelling metabolic CO2 evolution – a fresh perspective on respiration


Correspondence: L. J. Sweetlove. e-mail:


Respiration is a major contributor to net exchange of CO2 between plants and the atmosphere and thus an important aspect of the vegetation component of global climate change models. However, a mechanistic model of respiration is lacking, and so here we explore the potential for flux balance analysis (FBA) to predict cellular CO2 evolution rates. Metabolic flux analysis reveals that respiration is not always the dominant source of CO2, and that metabolic processes such as the oxidative pentose phosphate pathway (OPPP) and lipid synthesis can be quantitatively important. Moreover, there is considerable variation in the metabolic origin of evolved CO2 between tissues, species and conditions. Comparison of FBA-predicted CO2 evolution profiles with those determined from flux measurements reveals that FBA is able to predict the metabolic origin of evolved CO2 in different tissues/species and under different conditions. However, FBA is poor at predicting flux through certain metabolic processes such as the OPPP and we identify the way in which maintenance costs are accounted for as a major area of improvement for future FBA studies. We conclude that FBA, in its standard form, can be used to predict CO2 evolution in a range of plant tissues and in response to environment.