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The Periodic Table of Food Initiative


Food is at the center of the world’s most urgent challenges and largest opportunities.

According to the World Health Organization, malnutrition is the leading cause of death and disease globally. In fact, there is a “triple burden” of malnutrition at all levels of the population:

  • Undernutrition: The lack of food and/or access to it. 
  • Overnutrition: The consumption of too many calories.  
  • Poor nutrition: Not the right nutritional content (vitamin and mineral deficiencies).

Given advances in the quality and cost of mass spectrometry, bioinformatics, machine learning and big data, along with the growing recognition of the important health impacts of food, the time is ripe for the PTFI.  

The PTFI will strengthen and support ongoing work by developing lowcost mass spectrometry kits, standards, methods, cloud-based analytical tools, and a public database that will include a quantitative and qualitative analysis of 1,000 foods that are representative of geographic and cultural diversity worldwide.

The PTFI will establish a Working Group, composed of experts around the globe, who will inform the selection of the first 2,000 foods based on specific criteria. The overarching goal of this selection process is to ensure inclusivity. The following dimensions we are considering arise out of provocations that help define the plenum of global food options: 

  • Biology: Where in the phylogenetic tree did the organisms that become food originate? 
  • Tissue: What part of organisms are used for food? Entire organisms or portions of plants, animals, or microbes? 
  • Geography: Where do foods originate and where do they thrive? 
  • Consumers: Who are specific foods targeted to? 
  • Processing: Broadly speaking, how are foods treated after “harvest”? 
  • Domestication: How has human intervention modified organisms from their native (wild) state? 
  • Derivation and Formulation: Is the organism (plant, animal, microbe) consumed as a food as is, or is it a derived ingredient in a formulated product or recipe? 
  • Proportional Abundance: From rice to spice – which foods are the center of a meal and the core of a cuisine, and which are tiny fractions of the diet, but can be just as frequently consumed? 
  • Affordability: Which foods are luxury and which are staples? 
  • Frequency: Which foods are consumed on a regular basis and which are associated with rare festive events, life transitions, spiritual celebrations? 
  • Complementarity: Which foods are historically consumed as ensembles? 

Once the database is in place, the scientific community and private sector can build on this public resource by adding analysis of additional foods, varieties, and cooking methods. The PTFI technical platform will enable conditions for a rapid acceleration in research and innovation in both the public and private sectors.

Visit the website for further information.

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