The human gut microbiota has become the subject of extensive research in recent years and our knowledge of the resident species and their potential functional capacity is rapidly growing. Our gut harbours a complex community of over 100 trillion microbial cells which influence human physiology, metabolism, nutrition and immune function while disruption to the gut microbiota has been linked with gastrointestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and obesity. Here, we review the many significant recent studies that have centred on further enhancing our understanding of the complexity of intestinal communities as well as their genetic and metabolic potential. These have provided important information with respect to what constitutes a ‘healthy gut microbiota’ while furthering our understanding of the role of gut microbes in intestinal diseases. We also highlight recently developed genomic and other tools that are used to study the gut microbiome and, finally, we consider the manipulation of the gut microbiota as a potential therapeutic option to treat chronic gastrointestinal disease.