This review explores our current understanding of the complex interaction between environmental risk factors, genetic traits and the development of inflammatory bowel disease. The primacy of environmental risk factors is illustrated by the rapid increase in the incidence of the disease worldwide. We discuss how the gut microbiota is the proximate environmental risk factor for subsequent development of inflammatory bowel disease. The evolving fields of virome and mycobiome studies will further our understanding of the full potential of the gut microbiota in disease pathogenesis. Manipulating the gut microbiota is a promising therapeutic avenue.