Probiotics have a range of proposed health benefits for the consumer, which may include modulating the levels of beneficial elements in the microbiota. Recent investigations using molecular approaches have revealed a human intestinal microbiota comprising over 1000 phylotypes. Mechanisms whereby probiotics impact on the intestinal microbiota include competition for substrates, direct antagonism by inhibitory substances, competitive exclusion, and potentially host-mediated effects such as improved barrier function and altered immune response. We now have the microbial inventories and genetic blueprints to begin tackling intestinal microbial ecology at an unprecedented level of detail, aided by the understanding that dietary components may be utilized differentially by individual phylotypes. Controlled intervention studies in humans, utilizing latest molecular technologies, are required to consolidate evidence for bacterial species that impact on the microbiota. Mechanistic insights should be provided by metabolomics and other analytical techniques for small molecules. Rigorous characterization of interactions between the diet, microbiota, and probiotic bacteria will provide new opportunities for modulating the microbiota towards improving human health.