Members of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex show distinct host preferences, yet the molecular basis for this tropism is unknown. Comparison of the M. tuberculosis and Mycobacterium bovis genome sequences revealed no unique genes in the bovine pathogen per se, indicating that differences in gene expression may play a significant role in host predilection. To define the key gene expression differences between M. tuberculosis and M. bovis we have performed transcriptome analyses of cultures grown under steady-state conditions in a chemostat. This revealed that the human and bovine pathogens show differential expression of genes encoding a range of functions, including cell wall and secreted proteins, transcriptional regulators, PE/PPE proteins, lipid metabolism and toxin-antitoxin pairs. Furthermore, we probed the gene expression response of M. tuberculosis and M. bovis to an acid-shock perturbation which triggered a notably different expression response in the two strains. Through these approaches we have defined a core gene set that shows differential expression between the human and bovine tubercle bacilli, and the biological implications are discussed.