Systems-Wide Prediction of Enzyme Promiscuity Reveals a New Underground Alternative Route for Pyridoxal 5’-Phosphate Production in E. coli

Oberhardt MA, Zarecki R, Reshef L, Xia F, Duran-Frigola M, Schreiber R, Henry CS, Ben-Tal N, Dwyer DJ, Gophna U, Ruppin E,
PLOS Computational Biology, 2016, 12(1), 1-19

Recent insights suggest that non-specific and/or promiscuous enzymes are common and active across life. Understanding the role of such enzymes is an important open question in biology. Here we develop a genome-wide method, PROPER, that uses a permissive PSI-BLAST approach to predict promiscuous activities of metabolic genes. Enzyme promiscuity is typically studied experimentally using multicopy suppression, in which over-expression of a promiscuous ‘replacer’ gene rescues lethality caused by inactivation of a ‘target’ gene.
We use PROPER to predict multicopy suppression in Escherichia coli, achieving highly significant overlap with published cases (hypergeometric p = 4.4e-13). We then validate three novel predicted target-replacer gene pairs in new multicopy suppression experiments. We next go beyond PROPER and develop a network-based approach, GEM-PROPER, that integrates PROPER with genome-scale metabolic modeling to predict promiscuous replacements via alternative metabolic pathways. GEM-PROPER predicts a new indirect replacer (thiG) for an essential enzyme (pdxB) in production of pyridoxal 5’-phosphate (the active form of Vitamin B6), which we validate experimentally via multicopy suppression. We perform a structural analysis of thiG to determine its potential promiscuous active site, which we validate experimentally by inactivating the pertaining residues and showing a loss of replacer activity. Thus, this study is a successful example where a computational investigation leads to a network-based identification of an indirect promiscuous replacement of a key metabolic enzyme, which would have been extremely difficult to identify directly