Glycans comprise ubiquitous and essential biopolymers, which usually occur as highly diverse mixtures. The myriad different structures are generated by a limited number of carbohydrate-active enzymes (CAZymes), which are unusual in that they catalyze multiple reactions by being relatively unspecific with respect to substrate size. Existing experimental and theoretical descriptions of CAZyme-mediated reaction systems neither comprehensively explain observed action patterns nor suggest biological functions of polydisperse pools in metabolism. Here, we overcome these limitations with a novel theoretical description of this important class of biological systems in which the mixing entropy of polydisperse pools emerges as an important system variable. In vitro assays of three CAZymes essential for central carbon metabolism confirm the power of our approach to predict equilibrium distributions and non-equilibrium dynamics. A computational study of the turnover of the soluble heteroglycan pool exemplifies how entropy-driven reactions establish a metabolic buffer in vivo that attenuates fluctuations in carbohydrate availability. We argue that this interplay between energy- and entropy-driven processes represents an important regulatory design principle of metabolic systems.
Önder Kartal, Sebastian Mahlow, Alexander Skupin, Oliver Ebenhoeh (2011). Molecular Systems Biology. 7,542