The intracellular redox balance is maintained by mixed-acid fermentation, that is, the production and excretion of several organic acids. When oxygen is available, E. coli switches to aerobic respiration to achieve redox balance and optimal energy conservation by proton translocation linked to electron transfer. The switch between fermentative and aerobic respiratory growth is driven by extensive changes in gene expression and protein synthesis, resulting in global changes in metabolic fluxes and metabolite concentrations. This oxygen response is determined by the interaction of global and local genetic regulatory mechanisms, as well as by enzymatic regulation. The response is affected by basic physical constraints such as diffusion, thermodynamics and the requirement for a balance of carbon, electrons and energy (predominantly the proton motive force and the ATP pool). A comprehensive systems level understanding of the oxygen response of E. coli requires the integrated interpretation of experimental data that are pertinent to the multiple levels of organization that mediate the response. In the pan-European venture, Systems Biology of Microorganisms (SysMO) and specifically within the project Systems Understanding of Microbial Oxygen Metabolism (SUMO), regulator activities, gene expression, metabolite levels and metabolic flux datasets were obtained using a standardized and reproducible chemostat-based experimental system. These different types and qualities of data were integrated using mathematical models. The approach described here has revealed a much more detailed picture of the aerobic–anaerobic response, especially for the environmentally critical microaerobic range that is located between unlimited oxygen availability and anaerobiosis.