The mammalian gut is densely inhabited by microorganisms that have coevolved with their host. Amongst these latter microorganisms, bifidobacteria represent a key model to study host–microbe interaction within the mammalian gut. Remarkably, bifidobacteria naturally occur in a range of ecological niches that are either directly or indirectly connected to the animal gastrointestinal tract. They constitute one of the dominant bacterial members of the intestinal microbiota and are among the first colonizers of the mammalian gut. Notably, the presence of bifidobacteria in the gut has been associated with several health-promoting activities. In this review, we aim to provide an overview of current knowledge on the genetic diversity and ecology of bifidobacteria. Furthermore, we will discuss how this important group of gut bacteria is able to colonize and survive in the mammalian gut, so as to facilitate host interactions.
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