There is an urgent need to develop and validate a series of biomarkers, which accurately measure and inform on how the human gut microbiota can affect human health. The human gut hosts a complex community of micro-organisms, with unique features in each individual. The functional role of this gut microbiota in health and disease is increasingly evident, but poorly understood. Comprehension of this ecosystem implies a significant challenge in the elucidation of interactions between all of its components, but promises a paradigm shift in preventive nutrition and medicine. ‘Omics’ technologies for the first time offer tools of sufficient subtlety to tackle this challenge. However, these techniques must be allied with traditional skills of the microbial physiologist, which are in danger of being lost. Targeting these efforts at the identification of biomarkers associated with gut health will require access to a ‘biobank’ from a pan-European or worldwide observation study, which would include samples taken with appropriate frequency from healthy individuals of different ages. This offers a pragmatic opportunity for a unique food and pharmaceutical industry collaboration.