The microbiome has an important role in human health. Changes in the microbiota can confer resistance to or promote infection by pathogenic bacteria. Antibiotics have a profound impact on the microbiota that alters the nutritional landscape of the gut and can lead to the expansion of pathogenic populations. Pathogenic bacteria exploit microbiota-derived sources of carbon and nitrogen as nutrients and regulatory signals to promote their own growth and virulence. By eliciting inflammation, these bacteria alter the intestinal environment and use unique systems for respiration and metal acquisition to drive their expansion. Unravelling the interactions between the microbiota, the host and pathogenic bacteria will produce strategies for manipulating the microbiota against infectious diseases.