A structured evaluation of genome-scale constraint-based modeling tools for microbial consortia

William T. Scott*, Sara Benito-Vaquerizo, Johannes Zimmermann, Djordje Bajić, Almut Heinken, Maria Suarez-Diez, Peter J. Schaap

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
17 Downloads (Pure)


Harnessing the power of microbial consortia is integral to a diverse range of sectors, from healthcare to biotechnology to environmental remediation. To fully realize this potential, it is critical to understand the mechanisms behind the interactions that structure microbial consortia and determine their functions. Constraint-based reconstruction and analysis (COBRA) approaches, employing genome-scale metabolic models (GEMs), have emerged as the state-of-the-art tool to simulate the behavior of microbial communities from their constituent genomes. In the last decade, many tools have been developed that use COBRA approaches to simulate multi-species consortia, under either steady-state, dynamic, or spatiotemporally varying scenarios. Yet, these tools have not been systematically evaluated regarding their software quality, most suitable application, and predictive power. Hence, it is uncertain which tools users should apply to their system and what are the most urgent directions that developers should take in the future to improve existing capacities. This study conducted a systematic evaluation of COBRA-based tools for microbial communities using datasets from two-member communities as test cases. First, we performed a qualitative assessment in which we evaluated 24 published tools based on a list of FAIR (Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability, and Reusability) features essential for software quality. Next, we quantitatively tested the predictions in a subset of 14 of these tools against experimental data from three different case studies: a) syngas fermentation by C. autoethanogenum and C. kluyveri for the static tools, b) glucose/xylose fermentation with engineered E. coli and S. cerevisiae for the dynamic tools, and c) a Petri dish of E. coli and S. enterica for tools incorporating spatiotemporal variation. Our results show varying performance levels of the best qualitatively assessed tools when examining the different categories of tools. The differences in the mathematical formulation of the approaches and their relation to the results were also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1011363
Number of pages32
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number8 August
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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