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Am J Gastroenterol. 2000 Oct;95(10):2872-9.

Shared and unique environmental factors determine the ecology of methanogens in humans and rats.

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Department of Medicine, University of Queensland and Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Brisbane, Australia.



This study ascertains the relative contributions of genetics and environment in determining methane emission in humans and rats. There is considerable interest in the factors determining the microbial species that inhabit the colon. Methanogens. which are archaebacteria, are an easily detected colonic luminal bacteria because they respire methane. They are present in some but not all human colons and lower animal hindguts. Opinion varies on the nature of the factors influencing this ecology with some studies proposing the existence of host genetic influences.


Methane emission was measured in human twin pairs by gas chromatography, and structural equation modeling was used to determine the proportion of genetic and environmental determinants. The importance of the timing of environmental effects and rat strain on the trait of methane emission were ascertained by experiments with cohabiting methanogenic and nonmethanogenic rats.


Analysis of breath samples from 274 adolescent twin pairs and their families indicated that the major influences on the trait of methane emission are the result of shared (53%, 95% confidence interval 39-61) and unique environmental (47%, 95% confidence interval 38-56) effects. No significant autosomal genetic effects were detected, but as observed in other studies, men (37%) were less likely to excrete methane in their breath than women (63%). Investigation of methane emission in rats indicated that environmental effects in this animal are most potent during the weaning period, with stable gut microbial ecology thereafter for some but not all rat strains.


These results are consistent with shared and unique environmental factors being the main determinants of the ecology of this colonic microbe.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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