The human superorganism is a conglomerate of mammalian and microbial cells, with the latter estimated to outnumber the former by ten to one and the microbial genetic repertoire (microbiome) to be approximately 100-times greater than that of the human host. Given the ability of the immune response to rapidly counter infectious agents, it is striking that such a large density of microbes can exist in a state of synergy within the human host. This is particularly true of the distal gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which houses up to 1000 distinct bacterial species and an estimated excess of 1 x 10(14) microorganisms. An ever-increasing body of evidence implicates the GI microbiota in defining states of health and disease. Here, we review the literature in adult and pediatric GI microbiome studies, the emerging links between microbial community structure, function, infection and disease, and the approaches to manipulate this crucial ecosystem to improve host health.