Microbial catabolic activities are naturally selected by metabolic energy harvest rate

Rebeca González-Cabaleiro, Irina D. Ofiţeru, Juan M. Lema, Jorge Rodríguez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


The fundamental trade-off between yield and rate of energy harvest per unit of substrate has been largely discussed as a main characteristic for microbial established cooperation or competition. In this study, this point is addressed by developing a generalized model that simulates competition between existing and not experimentally reported microbial catabolic activities defined only based on well-known biochemical pathways. No specific microbial physiological adaptations are considered, growth yield is calculated coupled to catabolism energetics and a common maximum biomass-specific catabolism rate (expressed as electron transfer rate) is assumed for all microbial groups. Under this approach, successful microbial metabolisms are predicted in line with experimental observations under the hypothesis of maximum energy harvest rate. Two microbial ecosystems, typically found in wastewater treatment plants, are simulated, namely: (i) the anaerobic fermentation of glucose and (ii) the oxidation and reduction of nitrogen under aerobic autotrophic (nitrification) and anoxic heterotrophic and autotrophic (denitrification) conditions. The experimentally observed cross feeding in glucose fermentation, through multiple intermediate fermentation pathways, towards ultimately methane and carbon dioxide is predicted. Analogously, two-stage nitrification (by ammonium and nitrite oxidizers) is predicted as prevailing over nitrification in one stage. Conversely, denitrification is predicted in one stage (by denitrifiers) as well as anammox (anaerobic ammonium oxidation). The model results suggest that these observations are a direct consequence of the different energy yields per electron transferred at the different steps of the pathways. Overall, our results theoretically support the hypothesis that successful microbial catabolic activities are selected by an overall maximum energy harvest rate.

Original languageBritish English
Pages (from-to)2630-2641
Number of pages12
JournalISME Journal
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2015


Dive into the research topics of 'Microbial catabolic activities are naturally selected by metabolic energy harvest rate'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this