Mammals are metagenomic, in that they are composed not only of their own genome but also those of all of their associated microbes (microbiome). Individual variations in the microbiome influence host health and may be implicated in disease aetiology. Therefore, it is not surprising that decreased microbial diversity is associated with both obesity and inflammatory bowel disease. Studies in germ-free mice have demonstrated that the gut microbiota is required for development of diet-induced obesity as well as inflammatory diseases. However, the underlying molecular mechanism(s) for how the gut microbiota causes metabolic diseases is only beginning to be clarified. Furthermore, emerging data suggest that the gut microbiota may predispose or protect against other important diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.