The gut microbiota codevelops with the immune system beginning at birth. Mining the microbiota for bacterial strains responsible for shaping the structure and dynamic operations of the innate and adaptive arms of the immune system represents a formidable combinatorial problem but one that needs to be overcome to advance mechanistic understanding of microbial community and immune system coregulation and to develop new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches that promote health. Here, we discuss a scalable, less biased approach for identifying effector strains in complex microbial communities that impact immune function. The approach begins by identifying uncultured human fecal microbiota samples that transmit immune phenotypes to germ-free mice. Clonally arrayed sequenced collections of bacterial strains are constructed from representative donor microbiota. If the collection transmits phenotypes, effector strains are identified by testing randomly generated subsets with overlapping membership in individually housed germ-free animals. Detailed mechanistic studies of effector strain-host interactions can then be performed. Determining which combinations of human gut bacterial strains shape immune function presents a huge challenge. Ahern etal. propose an approach that should facilitate discovery of microbe-based therapeutics, which involves culturing a person's gut community and efficiently mining it for strains that transmit immunomodulatory activities to germ-free mice.