The Hungate1000 project, named after one of the great microbiologists, Robert E. Hungate (pictured), was launched with the aim of producing a reference set of rumen microbial genome sequences. When this project began there was only a handful of rumen reference microbial genomes available. The first output of the Hungate1000 project, comprising 410 high-quality genome sequences, is reported online today in Nature Biotechnology. Seshadri et al. highlight discovery of degradative enzymes, biosynthetic gene clusters and Crispr sequences. These reference genomes will enable robust interpretation of rumen metagenomes, which should result in a better understanding of rumen functions. Genome-enabled research into feed conversion efficiency, methanogenesis and cellulose degradation will, in turn, assist development of strategies to balance food production with efforts to minimize greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, access to cultivated Hungate Collection strains will provide vital tools for studying carbon flow in the rumen, breakdown of lignocelluloses and methane formation.