Microorganisms colonize various ecological niches in the human habitat, as they do in nature. Predominant forms of multicellular communities called biofilms colonize human tissue surfaces. The gastrointestinal tract is home to a profusion of microorganisms with intertwined, but not identical, lifestyles: as isolated planktonic cells, as biofilms and in biofilm-dispersed form. It is therefore of major importance in understanding homeostatic and altered host–microorganism interactions to consider not only the planktonic lifestyle, but also biofilms and biofilm-dispersed forms. In this Review, we discuss the natural organization of microorganisms at gastrointestinal surfaces, stratification of microbiota taxonomy, biogeographical localization and trans-kingdom interactions occurring within the biofilm habitat. We also discuss existing models used to study biofilms. We assess the contribution of the host–mucosa biofilm relationship to gut homeostasis and to diseases. In addition, we describe how host factors can shape the organization, structure and composition of mucosal biofilms, and how biofilms themselves are implicated in a variety of homeostatic and pathological processes in the gut. Future studies characterizing biofilm nature, physical properties, composition and intrinsic communication could shed new light on gut physiology and lead to potential novel therapeutic options for gastrointestinal diseases.

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