The gastrointestinal tract is a complex ecosystem host to a diverse and highly evolved microbial community composed of hundreds of different microbial species. The interactions that occur between this complex microbial community and the human host have become the focus of scientific research due to increases in the incidence of illnesses associated with deficient or compromised microflora (e.g., gastrointestinal tract infections, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis), irritable bowel syndrome, antibiotic-induced diarrhea, constipation, food allergies, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers). Effective multidisciplinary research programs now complement conventional microbiology with molecular ecology techniques to provide culture-independent analysis of the gastrointestinal ecosystem. Furthermore, as we acquire an understanding of gut microflora composition and processes such as intestinal adherence, colonization, translocation, and immunomodulation, we are also elucidating mechanisms by which these can be influenced. This knowledge not only allows scientists to define the activities and interactions of "functional food"-borne beneficial bacteria in the gut, but will also provide the scientific basis for the development of innovative biotechnology-based products tailored to prevent specific diseases and promote overall human gastrointestinal health.