The diversity of the Insecta is reflected in the large and varied microbial communities inhabiting the gut. Studies, particularly with termites and cockroaches, have focused on the nutritional contributions of gut bacteria in insects living on suboptimal diets. The indigenous gut bacteria, however, also play a role in withstanding the colonization of the gut by non-indigenous species including pathogens. Gut bacterial consortia adapt by the transfer of plasmids and transconjugation between bacterial strains, and some insect species provide ideal conditions for bacterial conjugation, which suggests that the gut is a "hot spot" for gene transfer. Genomic analysis provides new avenues for the study of the gut microbial community and will reveal the molecular foundations of the relationships between the insect and its microbiome. In this review the intestinal bacteria is discussed in the context of developing our understanding of symbiotic relationships, of multitrophic interactions between insects and plant or animal host, and in developing new strategies for controlling insect pests.