The Periodic Table of Food Initiative (PTFI) is a global effort to create a public database of the biochemical composition and function of the food we eat using the latest mass spectrometry technologies and bioinformatics.

The Need

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).

Our scientific understanding of the foods that nourish us is still rudimentary. At most, 150 of food’s biochemical components are measured and tracked in conventional databases, which only represents a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of biochemicals in food. Beyond health, we also know today’s food production negatively impacts the quality of our water, soil, and air, and contributes to climate change. A food system that supports human and planetary health requires a better understanding of the interactions between food, health, nutrition, and environment. 

Proposed Solution:

A Periodic Table of Food


The Periodic Table of Food Initiative (PTFI) is a global effort to create a public database of the biochemical composition and function of the food we eatThe PTFI will strengthen and support ongoing work by institutions around the world by developing low-cost mass spectrometry kits, standards, methods, cloud-based analytical tools, and a public database – the Periodic Table of Food (PTF) – that will include a quantitative and qualitative analysis of thousands of foods. The PTFI will begin by analyzing 1,000 foods that are representative of the geographic and cultural diversity worldwide. 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

Our Approach

The PTFI is a collaborative effort that will enable conditions for rapid acceleration in research and innovation.  

Our Impact

The PTFI will help address issues such as allergies, biodiversity loss, disease, childhood malnutrition, declining soil health, and more.

We would like to acknowledge the following people for important early contributions that have influenced the creation of the PTFI:

Laszlo Barabasi, Northeastern University

Edith Feskens, Wageningen University

Bruce German, University of California Davis

Jeff Gordon, University of California Davis

Carlito Lebrilla, University of California Davis

Dariush Mozaffarian, Tufts University

Howard Shapiro, University of California Davis

Justin Siegel, University of California Davis

Steve Watkins, Verso Biosciences

David Wishart, University of Alberta