While largely studied because of their harmful effects on human health, there is growing appreciation that bacteria are important partners for invertebrates and vertebrates, including man. Epithelia in metazoans do not only select their microbiota; a coevolved consortium of microbes enables both invertebrates and vertebrates to expand the range of diet supply, to shape the complex immune system and to control pathogenic bacteria. Microbes in zebrafish and mice regulate gut epithelial homeostasis. In a squid, microbes control the development of the symbiotic light organ. These discoveries point to a key role for bacteria in any metazoan existence, and imply that beneficial bacteria-host interactions should be considered an integral part of development and evolution.