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

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Working paperPreprint


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. Ultimately, we provide recommendations for refining future GEM microbial modeling tools.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages32
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2023

Publication series

NamebioRxiv (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory)


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