March 21, 2018   •   News

Major LRG work on rumen microbial genomes published in Nature

Scientists in the LRG’s Rumen Microbial Genomics Network have had their work to develop a global reference set of genome sequences of rumen microbes published in Nature Biotechnology

The project, called the Hungate1000*, was led by New Zealand scientists Dr Bill Kelly and Dr Sinead Leahy and brought together nearly 60 scientists from 14 research organisations across nine countries**. This global collaboration has generated a reference catalogue of 501 rumen microbial genomes—before Hungate1000, just 15 rumen microbial genomes were available to the scientific community.

Dr Kelly says the project gives a new understanding of what exactly is taking place inside a rumen.

“Hungate1000 means we can now start to reveal the intricacies of how the rumen microbial community functions, and provide a roadmap for where to take the science next,” he says. “This data can be translated into interventions that are globally useful, such as identifying targets for vaccines and inhibitors to reduce methane emissions and improve productivity, among other things.”

Dr Leahy says the project represents a major scientific advancement in the field of rumen microbiology, an area of science that up until recently had largely been unexplored.

“These microbes in the stomachs of ruminants are crucially important—they convert grass and other dietary components into smaller compounds that the sheep or cow uses to make meat and milk,” she says. “The data we’ve made available with Hungate1000 will underpin the development of technologies to target these microbes and aid productivity or reduce greenhouse gas emissions—you need to know what you’re targeting to make a specific impact on the rumen microbiome environment.”

Dr Andy Reisinger, Deputy Director of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC) and New Zealand representative in the LRG, says Hungate1000 is central to the work that the LRG and New Zealand are leading.

“Hungate1000 shows what a powerhouse the rumen is in converting digestible plant material to energy, and gives us a much better understanding of how we might be able to use science to influence that process,” he says. “This will help us find ways not only to enhance productivity but also to achieve emissions reductions and deliver solutions to farmers—such as inhibitors and vaccines—that don’t affect their economic baselines.”

In line with the GRA’s philosophy that research should be conducted in a manner that ensures the widest possible benefit, the Hungate1000 data is publicly available as a community resource on the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute website.

The Hungate1000 was funded by the New Zealand Govenrment in support of the GRA. The genome sequencing and analysis component of the project was supported by the US Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute via its Community Science Program.

Dr Harry Clark, NZAGRC Director and Co-chair of the LRG, says Hungate1000 would not have come about without the GRA and the support of the New Zealand Government.

“This project shows the power of international collaboration—we’ve been able to bring scientists together from around the world to create this resource that can benefit all countries,” he says. “We’re already looking at ways that the Hungate1000 data can be exploited in future LRG collaborations.”

One such example is RumenPredict, a European-funded project that will bring together Hungate1000 and the Global Rumen Census (an earlier New Zealand-funded LRG collaboration) to link rumen microbiome information to host genetics and phenotype and develop feed-based mitigation strategies.

Dr Kelly says he and the rest of the Hungate1000 team are delighted to see their work published in Nature Biotechnology.

“It’s the culmination of a long journey and a lot of work, and we have achieved something that I think is really worthwhile,” he says. “The kudos of getting something published in a high-impact journal like Nature Biotechnology is enormous, and highlights the value of this work to a global audience.”

* So named after Bob Hungate, an American scientist who developed the pioneering technique of growing anaerobic bacteria that has been the cornerstone of the project. 

** Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, New Zealand, Scotland, USA, Wales