100 Years of Molecular Food & Nutrition Research

After 99 years of successful scientific work as 'Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Lebensmittelchemie' (German Research Centre for Food Chemistry), the institute now operates since 7th September 2017 as the new Leibniz-Institute for Food Systems Biology at the Technical University Munich. These 100 years mirror the development of food and nutrition research in Germany in the 20th and 21st century. Initially, the primary mission of the institute was to create new knowledge to alleviate the effects of war-induced food shortages and to improve nutrition for the population. Today, the institute uses cutting-edge methods of biomolecular research combined with bioinformatics and high-performance analytics to study the complex interplay between food ingredient systems and human physiology. The scientists strive to align food ingredient signatures and their functional profiles with the nutritional needs, the sensory preferences, and the acceptance of consumers. The institute’s research delivers the basis for new concepts, products, and technologies to contribute to the sustainable production of sufficient amounts of health-promoting and tasty food. In addition, the newly acquired knowledge gives new impulses for the development of personalized nutrition concepts. For example, these concepts will help people with food intolerances to stay healthy without restrictions in living quality.

On Friday, 15th June 2018, we celebrated our 100-Year Anniversary together with our alumni, research partners, friends and supporters in the frame of a celebratory science symposium. Electrifying speeches given by renowned international personalities from science, economy and politics were part of the program. The symposium was followed by a wonderful summer party at the institute, which continued into the late evening.

Program of the Anniversary Ceremony

Movie: 100 Jahre Molekulare Lebensmittel- und Ernährungsforschung (100 Years of Molecular Food and Nutrition Research)

Research History

1918 - 1928

On April 03, 1918, the Ministry of State for the Royal Family and the Ministries for the Interior and Foreign Affairs established the predecessor institute as public trust under the name of 'Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Lebensmittelchemie' (German Research Centre for Food Chemistry). Privy Councilor Professor Dr. Theodor Paul, Chair of Pharmacology and Applied Chemistry at the University of Munich, initiated the foundation of the institute. From 1918 to 1928, Professor Theodor Paul sparked the science-based food and nutrition research agenda of the institute in his role as founding director.

1928 - 1945

Between 1928 and 1945, the German chemist Professor Dr. Benno Bleyer was appointed director of the institute. Under his leadership, major research activities were focused on the chemistry of beverages and on biochemical as well as nutritional functions of phosphatides, carbohydrates and lipids of plant and animal origin.

1946 - 1968

Following Professor Bleyer, food chemist Professor Dr. Siegfried Walter Souci during his tenure as director of the institute from 1946 to 1968 performed leading research on food additives, water chemistry and balneology (therapeutic use of baths). Among other aspects, the balneology includes therapeutic applications of natural mineral springs and curative gases in the form of baths, the drinking of healing waters and inhalations.  Scientists constantly update the reference tables on food compositions ('Zusammensetzung der Lebensmittel'), which he published in 1962 together with Professor Heinrich Kraut and Dr. Walter Fachmann. Ever since this first edition, the 'German Food Composition Table Souci-Fachmann-Kraut' has developed to become an internationally used reference for scientists, companies and the public and is today available as print version and as an online table.

1969 - 1993

During his tenure from 1969 to 1993, Professor Dr. Hans-Dieter Belitz directed the scientific focus of the institute on structure-activity relationships of taste compounds and proteins. Among his most influential research is Belitz work on grain proteins with special emphasis on gluten determining the baking characteristics of wheat during manufacturing of bakery products. Professor Belitz made significant contributions to the molecular understanding of protein/protein interactions during bread making. Moreover, he succeeded to identify the toxic sequences of grain proteins, which cause celiac disease in genetically predisposed people. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, which causes chronic inflammation of the mucous membrane of the small intestines.

1993 - 2016

Between 1995 and 2016, Professor Dr. Werner Grosch (1993-1995) served as provisional head of the institute, until food chemist Professor Dr. Peter Schieberle (1995-2016) was appointed the new director. He newly defined the field of sensory research on the molecular level in a yet unprecedented depth. Due to his pioneering work on the elucidation of the complex aroma systems in food, the institute‘s research earned highest international recognition. Contrary to earlier assumptions, Professor Schieberle demonstrated that the nearly unlimited variety of food aromas comprise only about 230 key odorants out of the more than 10,000 volatiles in food known today. Between three and about 40 key odorants in specific concentration ratios define the aroma profile of a given food item and were shown to be sufficient to reconstruct the authentic aroma perception of foods.

The Institute since 2017

Since September 2017, the Leibniz-Institute for Food Systems Biology at the Technical University of Munich pursues a highly interdisciplinary and translational research approach under the leadership of Professor Dr. Thomas Hofmann, chair of Food Chemistry and Molecular Sensory Science and Senior Vice President of the Technical University of Munich. Exceeding a traditional food chemistry approach, the institute comprises a new and unique research profile at the intersections between food chemistry & biology, technology & chemosensors and between bioinformatics & machine learning. Through the integration of basic research and translational technology development, the institute delivers a significant contribution to securing a sustainable supply of food products, the functional ingredient profiles of which are increasingly targeted towards individual sensory preferences, acceptance and nutritional needs. Going beyond the knowledge on the function of single molecules, the scientists of the institute develop new approaches and molecular insights into food effector systems comprising the complex systems of biologically relevant ingredients from raw materials via customized food products all the way up to their physiological interactions with human biology. Targeting the grand challenges in times of a growing world population, increasing resource scarcities, and the increasing prevalence of nutrition-associated diseases, the research of the institute contributes to a more sustainable production of healthy and tasty foods and the development of personalized nutrition concepts.