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Nominations open for the PLOS Genetics Research Prize 2018


We’re delighted to announce the opening of nominations for the PLOS Genetics Research Prize 2018! To mark its launch, we asked Rainer Roehe, corresponding author of last year’s winning article, based at Scotland’s Rural College, to tell us about the importance of his research and the impact of winning the Research Prize.


Given that methane emissions from ruminants, including cattle, contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, would it be possible to breed less flatulent and more productive cattle? Roehe and his colleagues investigated how metagenomics might be used to address this problem. With a view to identifying the best selection criterion for informing future cattle breeding initiatives, they explored the impact of different factors (nutrition, host genetics and microbiome composition), and found that the host genome plays a significant role in the levels of methane production.


Why is your article of interest to a broad genetics readership?

Our research helps to address global challenges such as greenhouse gas emissions, food security and agricultural sustainability using the gut microbiome, a topic of widespread interest.

In the research we:

  • Identified interactions between host genetics and the gut (rumen) microbiome, but found that diet did not significantly influence this relationship.
  • Showed the impact of the gut microbiome on methane emissions in cattle, responsible for approximately 40% of greenhouse gas emissions from global livestock production.
  • Indicated, for the first time, that determining the abundance of microbial genes in the rumen provides a more informative way to predict methane emissions and feed conversion efficiencies than characterising the rumen microbial community, with implications for the criteria used to inform animal breeding programmes.
  • Provided knowledge about microbial gene functions that can be applied to other species including humans, for example using gut microbial gene abundances for personalised medicine.
  • Suggested that cross-talk between a host and its microbiome due to bacterial sensing of the sugar fucose in host mucins could provide a link between microbiome and feed conversion efficiency.


Animal genetics control the composition of the microbial community and thus methane emissions to a substantial extent with equal ranking of sire progeny groups within diet, with authors of the winning article. Image Credit: SRUC, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, with additions by Rainer Roehe and colleagues.

How did you feel when you found out that your research had won the prize?

My team and I were very excited to find out we had won the PLOS Genetics Research Prize based on the scientific excellence and community impact of our article ‘Bovine host genetic variation influences rumen microbial methane production with best selection criterion for low methane emitting and efficiently feed converting hosts based on metagenomic gene abundance’. We knew that our paper was ground-breaking for using information about the microbiome in breeding to mitigate methane emissions and improve feed conversion efficiency, and that microbial genes and their networks are of high interest to a general readership.


How did the prize reward of US$5,000 help disseminate your work?

The PLOS Genetics Research Prize had an enormous impact on the distribution of our research to many scientific and public audiences. We used the prize reward to attend the World Congress on Genetics Applied to Livestock Production in New Zealand (11-16 February 2018) and its acknowledgement in the presentation resulted in many questions related to our research paper. After the conference I was also invited to present our microbiome research at AgResearch in New Zealand. In addition, the prize funded travel costs to other conferences, e.g. 10th International Conference on Agriculture & Horticulture (Agri 2017) as well as the Animal Microbiome Congress, both in London, United Kingdom.

The prize resulted in substantial media interest. Our research was highlighted in The Times and numerous other newspapers; it also garnered considerable attention on social media, e.g. on Twitter and in blog posts, as well as general media coverage e.g. Reuters TV.

This shows that PLOS Genetics has a great international impact and uses excellent media channels to promote high quality research. My whole team would like to thank PLOS Genetics again for the prize and associated opportunities to disseminate our research worldwide.


Why did you choose to publish in the journal?

Publishing in an open access journal considerably improved the dissemination of the work, and I very much like the style of PLOS Genetics, which was a good fit for the presentation of our research.




If you know of a prize-worthy Research Article that published in 2017, please let us know by completing our nomination form. Nominations close on Friday June 8, 2018 at 11:59 PM ET and the winning article will be selected by the journal’s Senior Editors based on the criteria of scientific excellence and community impact.

All winning articles from previous years can be viewed in the PLOS Genetics Research Prize Collection.

For more information about the Research Prize, please take a look at our Program Page and Program Rules. Feel free to send any questions to


Featured image credit: March 2018 Issue Image. Arabidopsis seedling colonization by beneficial bacteria. Image Credit: Lukas Synek


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