Increasing evidence exists that bacterial communities interact with and shape the biology of algae and that their evolutionary histories are connected. Despite these findings, physiological studies were and still are generally carried out with axenic or at least antibiotic-treated cultures. Here, we argue that considering interactions between algae and associated bacteria is key to understanding their biology and evolution. To deal with the complexity of the resulting 'holobiont' system, a metabolism-centred approach that uses combined metabolic models for algae and associated bacteria is proposed. We believe that these models will be valuable tools both to study algal-bacterial interactions and to elucidate processes important for the acclimation of the holobiont to environmental changes.