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Maximizing output and recognizing autocatalysis in chemical reaction networks is NP-complete

: Andersen, J.L.; Flamm, C.; Merkle, D.; Stadler, P.F.


Journal of Systems Chemistry 3 (2012), No.1
ISSN: 1759-2208
Journal Article
Fraunhofer IZI ()

Background: A classical problem in metabolic design is to maximize the production of a desired compound in a given chemical reaction network by appropriately directing the mass flow through the network. Computationally, this problem is addressed as a linear optimization problem over the flux cone. The prior construction of the flux cone is computationally expensive and no polynomial-time algorithms are known. Results: Here we show that the output maximization problem in chemical reaction networks is NP-complete. This statement remains true even if all reactions are monomolecular or bi-molecular and if only a single molecular species is used as influx. As a corollary we show, furthermore, that the detection of autocatalytic species, i.e., types that can only be produced from the influx material when they are present in the initial reaction mixture, is an NPcomplete computational problem. Conclusions: Hardness results on combinatorial problems and optimization problems ar e important to guide the development of computational tools for the analysis of metabolic networks in particular and chemical reaction networks in general. Our results indicate that efficient heuristics and approximate algorithms need to be employed for the analysis of large chemical networks since even conceptually simple flow problems are probably intractable.