Donald B. Thompson, Ph.D.

  • Professor Emeritus of Food Science
  • Senior Fellow, Rock Ethics Institute
Donald B. Thompson, Ph.D.
407 Rodney A. Erickson Food Science Building
University Park, PA 16802
Work Phone: 814-863-0481


  1. University of Illinois, Ph.D., Food Science, 1984
  2. University of Illinois, M.S., Food Science, 1980
  3. Haverford College, B.A., English (pre-med), 1970

Professional Experience:

  • March ’12 - present: Senior Fellow, Rock Ethics Institute, Penn State University
  • Jan ‘12 - present: Professor Emeritus of Food Science, Penn State University
  • July '99 - present: Professor of Food Science
  • Jan '94 - June '00: Head, Department of Food Science
  • July '90 - June '99: Associate Professor of Food Science, Penn State University
  • July '84 - June '90: Assistant Professor of Food Science, Penn State University

Research Interests:

Bioethics.  Bioethics is often understood in a narrow way as medical bioethics.  Bioethics at Penn State is much broader.  To the extent that food has been medicalized, the relationship between food and health fits squarely within the concept of medical ethics.  Beyond its effects on individual and population health, food pertains to bioethics in many other ways, as it is a medium for individuals and groups to express and prioritize their values.

Ethics of Food and Health. This particular domain of bioethics is of special interest.  It includes a critical examination of the design, conduct, and reporting of research in this area, as well as the use of this research in support of health recommendations to individuals and populations, whether by government or commercial entities.

Food Choice.  Food is often selected on the basis of health benefits.  I am interested in how people understand the relationship between food and health, health being considered in the broad sense as defined by the World Health Organization.  I am also interested more broadly in applications of Western philosophical thought to meanings associated with food.

Functional Foods.  I explore the research base for the efficacy, effectiveness, and safety of functional foods; the relationship between scientific understanding and marketing strategies for foods, asking in effect whether and to what extent a putatively functional food can be said to be truly functional.  I am also interested in the relationship between scientific understanding and marketing strategies for foods containing putative bioactive components.  I am asking questions about ethical aspects of marketing food by reference to scientific evidence.

Starch Chemistry and Nutrition. (Although this research pertains to research no longer ongoing since retirement at the end of 2011, it remains an area of expertise.) Starch molecular structure and physical behavior; novel starch from unique maize genotypes; enzyme-resistant starch, and starch digestion; nutritional effects of food processing treatments, with emphasis on starch. (Click here for a brief "background and overview" concerning starch research.) 

Teaching Experience:

"Food, Values, and Health," FD SC 280H / PHIL 280H. (honors course, intermediate undergraduate level, 3 cr, general education in humanities (GH)). Taught yearly from 2004 to 2012.

"Carbohydrate Hydrocolloids," FD SC 510 (graduate level, 3 cr). Taught in spring of odd-numbered years since 1985. Final iteration taught in spring of 2009.

"Perspectives on Dietary Fiber," FD SC 597 (graduate level, 2 cr).  Taught in spring of 2011 (in lieu of FD SC 510).

"Physiology of Nutrition," FD SC 406 (undergraduate/graduate level, 3 cr). Taught annually through 2011. Required for food science undergraduate majors.

"Food Facts and Fads," FDSC 105 (undergraduate level, 3 cr, general education in health (GHA)). Taught in 2004

"Introductory Food Science," FD SC 200 (undergraduate, required of food science majors).(Taught in late 1980's)

"Topics in Nutrition," NUTRN 551 (graduate level, 1 cr). Last taught as "Factors Influencing Starch Digestion."

Selected Recent Publications:

Thompson, D.B.  2015.  Evaluating public health effectiveness of alcohol label warnings. American Journal of Bioethics. (in press)

Mayes, C. and D.B. Thompson. 2014.  Is nutritional advocacy morally indigestible?  A critical analysis of the scientific and ethical implications of 'healthy' food choice discourse in liberal societies.  Public Health Ethics.  7(2): 158-169.

Thompson, D.B.  2014.  Direct-to-consumer advertising of health-related goods and services.  American Journal of Bioethics.14(3); 53-54.

Thompson, D.B. and B.L. MacDonald.  2013.  What food is good for you?  Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics. 26(1): 137-163.

Marks, J.H. and D.B. Thompson.  2011.  Shifting the focus:  conflict of interest and the food industry.  American Journal of Bioethics.  11(1): 44-46.

Thompson, D.B.  2011.  Natural Food and the Pastoral:  A Sentimental Notion?  Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics.  24(2): 165-194.

Selected Recent Presentations:

Thompson, D.B.  2009.  "Ethical Implications of Marketing Considerations in 'Functional Foods' Research and Development."  Presented as part of the M.E. John Seminar Series in the Penn State Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, October 23.  

Thompson, D.B.  2009.  "Natural Food:  Second Nature and the Pastoral Design."  Presented at the Joint Annual Meeting of the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society (AFHVS) and the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS).  May 30.

Marks, J. and Thompson, D.B.  2009.  "Ethical Implications of Research on Food and Health." Presented by D.T. at the Joint Annual Meeting of the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society (AFHVS) and the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS).  May 29.

Thompson, D.B.  2009.  "The Natural and Natural Food."  Presented as part of the Penn State Science Technology and Society Brown Bag Series, February 19.

Thompson, D.B.  2008.  "Natural Health from Natural Carbohydrate:  Implications for Food Scientists."    Presented to CAFT, at Rutgers University.  October 29.

Thompson, D.B.  2008. Altered alpha-amylase digestion by physical modification of dispersed maize starch.  Presented at the symposium "Starch Utilization, Modification and New Technology," part of the American Chemical Society National Meeting in Philadelphia on August 20.

Thompson, D.B.  2008.  "Natural Health from Natural Carbohydrate:  Implications for Food Scientists."  Presented to the Carbohydrate Division at the Division luncheon at the 2008 IFT Annual Meeting.  June 30.

Thompson, D.B.  2008.  "Some Issues of Science and Ethics Concerning Functional Foods Research."  Presented at a Penn State Workshop titled “Industry-Sponsored Research on Food and Health:  Ethical Challenges and Policy Implications,” co-organized by J. Marks and D.B. Thompson.   March 27.

Selected Starch Publications:

Thompson, D.B.  2011.  Modulations of Starch Structure with Potential to Influence Health.  Australian Journal of Chemistry.  64(11): 1485-1487. 

Tapanapunnitikul, O., Chaiseri, S., Peterson, D., and Thompson, D.B.  2008.  Water solubility of flavor compounds influences formation of flavor inclusion complexes from dispersed high-amylose maize starch.   J. Agr. Food Chem.  56:220-226.

Saibene, D., Thompson, D.B., and Seetharaman, K.  2008.  Iodine binding by granular corn and potato starch.  Liu, H. and Thompson, D.B.  Generation of thermally stable resistant starch from solvent-dispersed maize starches.  Starch/Starke 60:165-173.  

Evans, A. and Thompson, D. B.  2008.  Enzyme susceptibility of non-granular high-amylose starch precipitated with ethanol or ammonium sulfate from sodium hydroxide dispersions.  Cereal Chem. 85:480-487.

Li, J.-H., Guiltinan, M.J., and Thompson, D.B.  2007.  Mutation of genes encoding maize starch branching enzyme isoforms Ia and IIb results in a synergistic effect on endosperm starch structural and physical characteristics.   Carbohydrate Res.  342:2619-2627.  

Thompson, D.B. 2007. Resistant Starch, Chapter 2 (pp 73-95) in "Functional Food Carbohydrates," C.G. Biliaderis & M. Izydorczyk, eds. Taylor and Francis, Boca Raton, FL.

Li, J.-H., Guiltinan, M.J., & Thompson, D.B. 2006. The use of laser differential interference contrast microscopy for the characterization of starch granule ring structure. Starch/Starke 58:1-5.

Xia, H. & Thompson, D.B. 2006. Debranching of beta-dextrins to explore branching patterns of amylopectins from three maize genotypes. Cereal Chem. 83:668-676.

Yao, Y., Guiltinan, M.G., & Thompson, D.B. 2005. High performance size-exclusion chromatography (HPSEC) and fluorophore-assisted carbohydrate electrophoresis (FACE) to describe the chain length distribution of debranched starch. Carbohydr. Res. 340:701-710.

Evans, A. and Thompson, D.B. 2004. Resistance to alpha-amylase digestion in four native high-amylose maize starches. Cereal Chem. 81: 31-37.

Yao, Y., Thompson, D.B., & Guiltinan, M.G. 2004. Maize starch-branching enzyme isoforms and amylopectin structure. In the absence of starch-branching enzyme IIb, the further absence of starch-branching enzyme Ia leads to increased branching. Plant Physiol. 136:3515-3523.

Evans, A. McNish, N, & Thompson, D. 2003. Polarization colors of lightly iodine-stained maize starches for amylose-extender and related genotypes in the W64A maize inbred line. Starch/Starke 55: 250-257.

Blauth, S. L., J. Klucinec, J.C. Shannon, D. B. Thompson, and M. J. Guiltinan. 2002. Identification of Mutator insertional mutants of starch branching enzyme I (Sbe1) in Zea mays L. Plant Molec. Biol. 48: 287-297.

Klucinec, J.D. and Thompson, D.B. 2002. Structure of amylopectins from ae-containing maize starches. Cereal Chem. 79(1):19-23.

Klucinec, J.D. and Thompson, D.B. 2002. Amylopectin structure and the amylose to amylopectin ratio both influence the nature of starch gels from mixtures of amylopectin and amylose. Cereal Chem. 79(1):24-35.

Yao, Y., Guiltinan, M.J., Shannon, J.C., and Thompson, D.B. 2002. Single kernel sampling method for maize starch analysis while maintaining kernel vitality. Cereal Chem. 79:757-762.

Brumovsky, J. and Thompson, D.B. 2001. Production of boiling-stable granular resistant starch by partial acid hydrolysis and hydrothermal treatments of high-amylose maize starch. Cereal Chem. 78:680-689.

Blauth, S. L., J. Klucinec, Y. Yuan, J.C. Shannon, D. B. Thompson, and M. J. Guiltinan. 2001. Identification of Mutator insertional mutants of starch branching enzyme 2a (Sbe2a) in Zea mays L. Plant Physiol. 125: 1396-1405.

Thompson, D.B. 2000. Strategies for the manufacture of resistant starch. Trends Food Sci. Technol. 11:245-253.

Thompson, D.B. 2000. On the non-random nature of amylopectin branching. Carbohydrate Polymers. 43:223-239.

Boltz, K.W. and Thompson, D.B. 1999. Initial heating temperature and native lipid affects ordering of amylose during cooling of high-amylose starches. Cereal Chemistry. 76:204-212.

Klucinec, J. and Thompson, D.B. 1999. Amylose and amylopectin interact in the gelation of dispersed high-amylose starches. Cereal Chemistry. 76:282-291.

Liu, Q. and Thompson, D.B. 1998. Effects of moisture content and different gelatinization heating temperature on retrogradation of waxy-type maize starches. Carbohydrate Research. 314:221-235.

Klucinec, J. and Thompson, D.B. 1998. Fractionation of high-amylose maize starches by differential alcohol precipitation and chromatography of the fractions. Cereal Chemistry. 75:887-890

Liu, Q. and Thompson, D.B. 1998. Retrogradation of du wx and su2 wx maize starches following different gelatinization heat treatments. Cereal Chemistry. 75:868-874.

Yuan, R.C. and Thompson, D.B. 1998. Freeze-thaw stability of three waxy maize starch pastes measured by centrifugation and calorimetry. Cereal Chemistry 75:571-573.

Yuan, R.C., and Thompson, D.B. 1998. Rheological and thermal properties of aged starch pastes from three waxy maize genotypes. Cereal Chemistry. 75:117-123.

Fisher, D.K., and Thompson, D.B. 1997. Retrogradation of maize starch after thermal treatment within and above the gelatinization temperature range. Cereal Chemistry. 74:344-351.

Yuan, R.C. and Thompson, D.B. 1994. Sub-Tg thermal properties of amorphous waxy starch and its derivatives. Carbohydrate Polymers. 25: 1-6.

Shewmaker, C.K., Boyer, C.D., Wiesenborn, D.P., Thompson, D.B., Boersig, M.R., Oakes, J.V., and Stalker, D.M. 1994. Expression of Escherichia coli glycogen synthase in the tubers of transgenic potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) results in a highly branched starch. Plant Physiology 104: 1159-1166.

Ziegler, G.R., Thompson, D.B., and Casasnovas, J. 1993. Dynamic measurement of starch granule swelling. Cereal Chemistry 70: 247-251.

Yuan, C.-K.R., Thompson, D.B., and Boyer, C.D. 1993. Fine structure of amylopectin in relation to gelatinization and retrogradation behavior in maize starches from three wx-containing genotypes in two inbred lines. Cereal Chemistry 70: 81-89.

US Patent:

Thompson, D.B. & Brumovsky, J. 2002. Manufacture of boiling-stable granular resistant starch by acid hydrolysis and hydrothermal treatment. U.S. patent no. 6,468,355.


Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society (AFHVS)
AACC International (AACI).
Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).
American Society for Nutrition (ASN).
Nutrition Graduate Program, Penn State.
Rock Ethics Institute, Penn State. 
Bioethics Dual-Title Graduate Degree Program, Penn State.