IBD-ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease-is emerging as a worldwide epidemic. An association between the increased incidence of IBD and environmental factors linked to socioeconomic development has been persistently detected in different parts of the world. The lifestyle in developed countries might impair the natural patterns of microbial colonization of the human gut. The interaction of microbes with mucosal immune compartments in the gut seems to have a major role in priming and regulating immunity. In IBD, mucosal lesions are generated by an excessive or dysregulated immune response against commensal microbes in the gut. In individuals with a genetic susceptibility to IBD, abnormal microbial colonization of the gastrointestinal tract might be the origin of such dysregulation. Developments in gene-sequencing technologies, as well as increased availability of powerful bioinformatic tools, have enabled novel insights into the microbial composition of the human gut microbiota and the effect of microbial communities on human physiology and disease. Studies that used these technologies indicate that dysbiosis (that is, abnormal microbiota composition) and decreased complexity of the gut microbial ecosystem are common features in patients with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Whether such changes are a cause or a consequence of the disease remains to be elucidated.