The complex gut microbial flora harbored by individuals (microbiota) has long been proposed to contribute to intestinal health as well as disease. Pre- and probiotic products aimed at improving health by modifying microbiota composition have already become widely available and acceptance of these products appears to be on the rise. However, although required for the development of effective microbiota based interventions, our basic understanding of microbiota variation on a population level and its dynamics within individuals is still rudimentary. Powerful new parallel sequence technologies combined with other efficient molecular microbiota analysis methods now allow for comprehensive analysis of microbiota composition in large human populations. Recent findings in the field strongly suggest that microbiota contributes to the development of obesity, atopic diseases, inflammatory bowel diseases and intestinal cancers. Through the ongoing National Institutes of Health Roadmap 'Human Microbiome Project' and similar projects in other parts of the world, a large coordinated effort is currently underway to study how microbiota can impact human health. Translating findings from these studies into effective interventions that can improve health, possibly personalized based on an individuals existing microbiota, will be the task for the next decade(s).