Genome Res (Jun 6 2014)
Ruminant livestock represent the single largest anthropogenic source of the potent greenhouse gas methane, which is generated by methanogenic archaea residing in ruminant digestive tracts. While differences between individual animals of the same breed in the amount of methane produced have been observed, the basis for this variation remains to be elucidated. To explore the mechanistic basis of this methane production, we measured methane yields from 22 sheep, which revealed that methane yields are a reproducible quantitative trait. Deep metagenomic and metatranscriptomic sequencing demonstrated the presence of methanogens both in the highest and lowest methane-producing sheep, with a similar abundance of methanogens and methanogenesis pathway genes in high and low methane emitters. However, transcription of methanogenesis pathway genes was substantially increased in sheep with high methane yields. These results identify a discrete set of rumen methanogens whose methanogenesis pathway transcription profiles correlate with methane yields and provide new targets for CH4 mitigation at the levels of microbiota composition and transcriptional regulation.