Syntrophy emerges spontaneously in complex metabolic systems

By exchanging resources, the members of a microbial community can survive in environments where individual species cannot. Despite the abundance of such syntrophy, little is known about its evolutionary origin. The predominant hypothesis is that syntrophy arises when originally independent organisms in the same community become interdependent by accumulating mutations. In this view, syntrophy arises when organisms co-evolve. In sharp contrast we find that different metabolism can interact syntrophically without a shared evolutionary history. We show that syntrophy is an inherent and emergent property of the complex chemical reaction networks that constitute metabolism.


Libby E, Hébert-Dufresne L, Hosseini S-R, Wagner A (2019) Syntrophy emerges spontaneously in complex metabolic systems. PLoS Comput Biol 15(7): e1007169.