Biotechnol Prog. 2023 Nov 24:e3413. doi: 10.1002/btpr.3413. Online ahead of print.
13C-Metabolic Flux Analysis (13C-MFA) and Flux Balance Analysis (FBA) are widely used to investigate the operation of biochemical networks in both biological and biotechnological research. Both methods use metabolic reaction network models of metabolism operating at steady state so that reaction rates (fluxes) and the levels of metabolic intermediates are constrained to be invariant. They provide estimated (MFA) or predicted (FBA) values of the fluxes through the network in vivo, which cannot be measured directly. These fluxes can shed light on basic biology and have been successfully used to inform metabolic engineering strategies. Several approaches have been taken to test the reliability of estimates and predictions from constraint-based methods and to compare alternative model architectures. Despite advances in other areas of the statistical evaluation of metabolic models, such as the quantification of flux estimate uncertainty, validation and model selection methods have been underappreciated and underexplored. We review the history and state-of-the-art in constraint-based metabolic model validation and model selection. Applications and limitations of the χ2 -test of goodness-of-fit, the most widely used quantitative validation and selection approach in 13C-MFA, are discussed, and complementary and alternative forms of validation and selection are proposed. A combined model validation and selection framework for 13C-MFA incorporating metabolite pool size information that leverages new developments in the field is presented and advocated for. Finally, we discuss how adopting robust validation and selection procedures can enhance confidence in constraint-based modeling as a whole and ultimately facilitate more widespread use of FBA in biotechnology.