The recent developments of metagenomics permit an extremely high-resolution molecular scan of the intestinal microbiota giving new insights and opening perspectives for clinical applications. Beyond the unprecedented vision of the intestinal microbiota given by large-scale quantitative metagenomics studies, such as the EU MetaHIT project, functional metagenomics tools allow the exploration of fine interactions between food constituents, microbiota and host, leading to the identification of signals and intimate mechanisms of crosstalk, especially between bacteria and human cells. Cloning of large genome fragments, either from complex intestinal communities or from selected bacteria, allows the screening of these biological resources for bioactivity towards complex plant polymers or functional food such as prebiotics. This permitted identification of novel carbohydrate-active enzyme families involved in dietary fibre and host glycan breakdown, and highlighted unsuspected bacterial players at the top of the intestinal microbial food chain. Similarly, exposure of fractions from genomic and metagenomic clones onto human cells engineered with reporter systems to track modulation of immune response, cell proliferation or cell metabolism has allowed the identification of bioactive clones modulating key cell signalling pathways or the induction of specific genes. This opens the possibility to decipher mechanisms by which commensal bacteria or candidate probiotics can modulate the activity of cells in the intestinal epithelium or even in distal organs such as the liver, adipose tissue or the brain. Hence, in spite of our inability to culture many of the dominant microbes of the human intestine, functional metagenomics open a new window for the exploration of food–microbe–host crosstalk.