The agriculture-food-nutrition sector is experiencing profound changes which bring up new scientific challenges of yet unseen dimension. More than 50 % of all availble land is already in use for food and feed production. 30 % of all food produced ends up as waste. The estimated growth of the global population to 9.6 billion around the year 2050 and changing consumption habits require a 60 % growth in food production to provide an adequate food supply. The increasing prevalence of food allergies and food hypersensitivities such as celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity as well as the increasing number of consumers, who avoid certain foods in the often mistaken belief that this avoidance will benefit their health, requires the development of novel target group-specific food products.
In addition, the disturbed regulation of food intake and the imbalance between energy intake and expenditure have caused a dramatic increase in the number of people suffering from nutrition-associated diseases. Excessive calorie intake and a sedentary lifestyle are causative factors contributing to metabolic syndrome, lead to obesity and, in consequence of the increasing insulin resistance, will finally end in diabetes. In turn, these health problems have led to serious concerns for our public health policies and the economy.
We now realize that narrowly focusing on individual food ingredients only falls short of delivering impactful solutions. Conflicting messages on which diet is healthy have further widened the gap between consumers’ best intentions for health and their actual behavior.
The sustainable production of sufficient food, with functional ingredient profiles targeted to meet the consumer preferences (such as smell, taste and texture), the acceptance (e.g. vegan food, food allergies and food hypersensitivities), and nutritional needs (e.g. micronutrients) is one of the largest challenges of human mankind. Going far beyond an isolated approach considering only single target molecules, scientists need to develop a fundamentally new systems understanding comprising the complex signatures of biologically relevant effector molecules from the raw materials via customized food products all the way up to their physiological interactions with human biology.
In line with this mission and according to the recommendations of the latest evaluation report, Professor Dr. Thomas Hofmann initiated the restructuring of the Leibniz-Institute in terms of research focus and organizational structure. The new Leibniz-Institute establishes a unique research profile at the intersection of chemistry, biology and bioinformatics. This new profile reaches far beyond the institute's focus on food chemistry. In another expansion phase, the institute may add biotechnology to further enrich its profile technologies.
With regard to the biological functions of complex ingredient patterns, the Leibniz-Institute has founded the field of »Food Systems Biology«. To accomplish this mission, the Leibniz Institute aims to elucidate structure-function relationships of complex biofunctional food ingredient systems, to transfer these from alternative raw materials and industrial side streams via resource efficient procedures in final food products and to elucidate their functions as biologically relevant effector and signal molecules (effector systems research).
Through the better understanding of the translational principles of complex effector molecule combinations into individualized activation patterns of biomolecular targets (receptors, ion channels), signal transduction and gene regulation processes in the cells of the gastrointestinal tract and the immune system, the institute delivers important contributions to the development of personalized nutrition concepts.
The vision, mission and strategy set the agenda of the Leibniz-LSB@TUM:
The Leibniz-LSB@TUM provides a world-leading knowledge basis for understanding and controlling functional molecular effector systems along the supply chain from raw materials to foods, their chemoreceptor-mediated response profiles, and the underlying biology in humans.
The Leibniz-LSB@TUM aims to identify, predict, and modulate molecular effector systems that determine sensory and nutritional quality, as well as food safety, to understand their role as information carrier between biological systems, and, by exploiting their mechanisms of action, to control metabolic and cellular processes maintaining human health.
By employing a multidisciplinary “systems biology” approach, the Leibniz-LSB@TUM integrates data streams of analytical high-performance technologies and experimental endeavors in chemistry and biology with computer science and, by cycling between experiment and in silico modelling, applies machine learning concepts to reveal a new functional understanding of complex food effector systems and their chemoreceptor-mediated interactions with human biology.