Both genetic variations and diet-disrupted gut microbiota can predispose animals to metabolic syndromes (MS). This study assessed the relative contributions of host genetics and diet in shaping the gut microbiota and modulating MS-relevant phenotypes in mice. Together with its wild-type (Wt) counterpart, the Apoa-I knockout mouse, which has impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and increased body fat, was fed a high-fat diet (HFD) or normal chow (NC) diet for 25 weeks. DNA fingerprinting and bar-coded pyrosequencing of 16S rRNA genes were used to profile gut microbiota structures and to identify the key population changes relevant to MS development by Partial Least Square Discriminate Analysis. Diet changes explained 57% of the total structural variation in gut microbiota, whereas genetic mutation accounted for no more than 12%. All three groups with IGT had significantly different gut microbiota relative to healthy Wt/NC-fed animals. In all, 65 species-level phylotypes were identified as key members with differential responses to changes in diet, genotype and MS phenotype. Most notably, gut barrier-protecting Bifidobacterium spp. were nearly absent in all animals on HFD, regardless of genotype. Sulphate-reducing, endotoxin-producing bacteria of the family, Desulfovibrionaceae, were enhanced in all animals with IGT, most significantly in the Wt/HFD group, which had the highest calorie intake and the most serious MS phenotypes. Thus, diet has a dominating role in shaping gut microbiota and changes of some key populations may transform the gut microbiota of Wt animals into a pathogen-like entity relevant to development of MS, despite a complete host genome.