Recent outbreaks of food-borne diseases highlight the need for reducing bacterial pathogens in foods of animal origin. Animal enteric pathogens are a direct source for food contamination. The ban of antibiotics as growth promoters (AGPs) has been a challenge for animal nutrition increasing the need to find alternative methods to control and prevent pathogenic bacterial colonization. The modulation of the gut microbiota with new feed additives, such as probiotics and prebiotics, towards host-protecting functions to support animal health, is a topical issue in animal breeding and creates fascinating possibilities. Although the knowledge on the effects of such feed additives has increased, essential information concerning their impact on the host are, to date, incomplete. For the future, the most important target, within probiotic and prebiotic research, is a demonstrated health-promoting benefit supported by knowledge on the mechanistic actions. Genomic-based knowledge on the composition and functions of the gut microbiota, as well as its deviations, will advance the selection of new and specific probiotics. Potential combinations of suitable probiotics and prebiotics may prove to be the next step to reduce the risk of intestinal diseases and remove specific microbial disorders. In this review we discuss the current knowledge on the contribution of the gut microbiota to host well-being. Moreover, we review available information on probiotics and prebiotics and their application in animal feeding. Copyright 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.