Cycles and the Qualitative Evolution of Chemical Systems

Peter Kreyssig, Gabi Escuela, Bryan Reynaert, Tomas Veloz, Bashar Ibrahim, Peter Dittrich

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37 Citations (Scopus)


Cycles are abundant in most kinds of networks, especially in biological ones. Here, we investigate their role in the evolution of a chemical reaction system from one self-sustaining composition of molecular species to another and their influence on the stability of these compositions. While it is accepted that, from a topological standpoint, they enhance network robustness, the consequence of cycles to the dynamics are not well understood. In a former study, we developed a necessary criterion for the existence of a fixed point, which is purely based on topological properties of the network. The structures of interest we identified were a generalization of closed autocatalytic sets, called chemical organizations. Here, we show that the existence of these chemical organizations and therefore steady states is linked to the existence of cycles. Importantly, we provide a criterion for a qualitative transition, namely a transition from one self-sustaining set of molecular species to another via the introduction of a cycle. Because results purely based on topology do not yield sufficient conditions for dynamic properties, e.g. stability, other tools must be employed, such as analysis via ordinary differential equations. Hence, we study a special case, namely a particular type of reflexive autocatalytic network. Applications for this can be found in nature, and we give a detailed account of the mitotic spindle assembly and spindle position checkpoints. From our analysis, we conclude that the positive feedback provided by these networks' cycles ensures the existence of a stable positive fixed point. Additionally, we use a genome-scale network model of the Escherichia coli sugar metabolism to illustrate our findings. In summary, our results suggest that the qualitative evolution of chemical systems requires the addition and elimination of cycles.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere45772
Number of pages13
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • chemical organization theory
  • cycles
  • feedback
  • reaction networks


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