We describe and discuss the features and functions of the "parvome", the "-ome" of the chemical world, consisting of the small molecules produced by living organisms. Here, we focus specifically on the world of microbial small molecules. Many years of natural product discovery research, coupled with recent advances and applications of genetic and genomic techniques have revealed the presence of an enormous collection of unique small molecules that are the products of cellular metabolism. As yet, we have a poor understanding of their functions and, in most cases, little knowledge of their routes of biosynthesis, although such information is accruing rapidly. In this review, we attempt to address the raison d'etre of the parvome in the bacterial world, and we propose that a better understanding of the true biological roles of natural products will permit the application of rational approaches to the more effective exploitation of their use in medicine by humankind.