From metagenomes to metabolism: Systematically assessing the metabolic flux feasibilities for “Candidatus Accumulibacter” species during anaerobic substrate uptake

Timothy Páez-Watson*, Mark C.M. van Loosdrecht, S. Aljoscha Wahl

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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With the rapid growing availability of metagenome assembled genomes (MAGs) and associated metabolic models, the identification of metabolic potential in individual community members has become possible. However, the field still lacks an unbiassed systematic evaluation of the generated metagenomic information to uncover not only metabolic potential, but also feasibilities of these models under specific environmental conditions. In this study, we present a systematic analysis of the metabolic potential in species of "Candidatus Accumulibacter", a group of polyphosphate-accumulating organisms (PAOs). We constructed a metabolic model of the central carbon metabolism and compared the metabolic potential among available MAGs for “Ca. Accumulibacter” species. By combining Elementary Flux Modes Analysis (EFMA) with max-min driving force (MDF) optimization, we obtained all possible flux distributions of the metabolic network and calculated their individual thermodynamic feasibility. Our findings reveal significant variations in the metabolic potential among “Ca. Accumulibacter” MAGs, particularly in the presence of anaplerotic reactions. EFMA revealed 700 unique flux distributions in the complete metabolic model that enable the anaerobic uptake of acetate and its conversion into polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), a well-known phenotype of “Ca. Accumulibacter”. However, thermodynamic constraints narrowed down this solution space to 146 models that were stoichiometrically and thermodynamically feasible (MDF > 0 kJ/mol), of which only 8 were strongly feasible (MDF > 7 kJ/mol). Notably, several novel flux distributions for the metabolic model were identified, suggesting putative, yet unreported, functions within the PAO communities. Overall, this work provides valuable insights into the metabolic variability among "Ca. Accumulibacter" species and redefines the anaerobic metabolic potential in the context of phosphate removal. More generally, the integrated workflow presented in this paper can be applied to any metabolic model obtained from a MAG generated from microbial communities to objectively narrow the expected phenotypes from community members.

Original languageEnglish
Article number121028
Number of pages11
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 2024


This work was supported by SIAM Gravitation Grant 024.002.00 , the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).


  • Elementary flux modes
  • Metabolic predictions
  • Metagenome-assembled genomes
  • Pathway thermodynamics


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