© 2016, Springer Science+Business Media New York. Throughout evolution, microbial genes and metabolites have become integral to virtually all aspects of host physiology, metabolism and even behaviour. New technologies are revealing sophisticated ways in which microbial communities interface with the immune system, and how modern environmental changes may be contributing to the rapid rise of inflammatory noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) through declining biodiversity. The implications of the microbiome extend to virtually every branch of medicine, biopsychosocial and environmental sciences. Similarly, the impact of changes at the immune-microbiota interface are directly relevant to broader discussions concerning rapid urbanization, antibiotics, agricultural practices, environmental pollutants, highly processed foods/beverages and socioeconomic disparities—all implicated in the NCD pandemic. Here, we make the argument that dysbiosis (life in distress) is ongoing at a micro- and macro-scale and that as a central conduit of health and disease, the immune system and its interface with microbiota is a critical target in overcoming the health challenges of the twenty-first century.