Microbes produce an extraordinary array of microbial defense systems. These include classical antibiotics, metabolic by-products, lytic agents, numerous types of protein exotoxins, and bacteriocins. The abundance and diversity of this potent arsenal of weapons are clear. Less clear are their evolutionary origins and the role they play in mediating microbial interactions. The goal of this review is to explore what we know about the evolution and ecology of the most abundant and diverse family of microbial defense systems: the bacteriocins. We summarize current knowledge of how such extraordinary protein diversity arose and is maintained in microbial populations and what role these toxins play in mediating microbial population-level and community-level dynamics. In the latter half of this review we focus on the potential role bacteriocins may play in addressing human health concerns and the current role they serve in food preservation.