Leading the discovery and delivery of innovative plant-based solutions to advance human health.

The Plants for Human Health Institute will emerge as the premier global center for the discovery and translation of the links between plants, disease prevention and health maintenance.


  • Goal 1:  Establish coordinated efforts in mobilizing resources to address health problems and ensure success with institute initiatives.
  • Goal 2:  Clarify and Deliver ways that the public can proactively counteract or reduce the rates of chronic disease through nutrition.
  • Goal 3:  Diversify, increase and sustain long-term funding; create mechanisms and incentives to build/enhance external partnerships.


N.C. State’s Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) consists of Research and Extension programs that create a dynamic presence at the N.C. Research Campus. Research on fruits and vegetables will enhance the health-protective value of food crops and has the potential to increase the economic impact of North Carolina agriculture. PHHI is unique in that it supports an in-house outreach component, a group of N.C. Cooperative Dr. Mary Ann Lila, PHHI DirectorExtension personnel that works with institute faculty and Cooperative Extension agents and specialists statewide to deliver educational resources to enrich the lives and economy of North Carolinians.

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at N.C. State supports the Plants for Human Health Institute with faculty from the departments of horticultural science; food, bioprocessiong and nutrition sciences; plant and microbial biology; and agricultural and resource economics, as well as CALS Communications. This transdisciplinary interaction strengthens the efforts of individual faculty.

Dr. Mary Ann Lila
Director, Plants for Human Health Institute
David H. Murdock Distinguished Professor
Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences


Who We Are & What We Do

Research | Extension | Collaboration & Partnership | Inspiring Future Scientists | History of the N.C. Research Campus


The Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) is pioneering a dramatic shift in the way the American public views and uses food crops, not merely as sources of nutrients and calories, but as powerful resources for components that protect and enhance human health and well-being.

Where’s the science?

  • In the lab – Integrated research in metabolomics, biochemistry, epigenetics, pharmacogenomics, breeding, systems biology and postharvest attributes will lead to the development of fruits, vegetables and natural products containing bioactives with enhanced health benefits.
  • In the field – Field trials are an integral part of N.C. State’s mission to provide agricultural innovation to North Carolina farmers. Performance in the lab must be matched by performance in the field for farmers to adopt new crops or new cultural practices.
  • On the table – Educating consumers to make proactive, responsible dietary choices that benefit their own, and their family’s, health is a culminating step in relaying these research initiatives to citizens.

What’s the scientific focus?

  • Identifying nutraceutical properties – Fruits and vegetables are more than energy sources. Many contain powerful substances, such as antioxidant phytochemicals that can prevent disease and improve health. As more health-promoting substances are identified in fresh fruits and vegetables, healthcare options may shift from pills to diet. N.C. State researchers are focusing on blueberries and their anti-cancer and anti-diabetic properties as well as their ability to alleviate the neurodegeneration that is a symptom of Parkinson’s disease.
  • Plant breeding – Plant breeding has been used for centuries to improve the nutritional value of plants. Enhancing the phytochemical content in blueberries and broccoli is the current focus of N.C. State’s breeding efforts at the N.C. Research Campus. The mapping of the blueberry genome will lead to improved blueberry cultivars for North Carolina growers and a healthier berry for consumers. Broccoli breeding research may produce plants that offer even more cancer-fighting properties. Strawberry research aims to develop a plant that is specifically adapted to North Carolina. The result? Increased productivity for farmers, a healthier product for consumers and economic vitality for the state.
  • Postharvest physiology – Postharvest research ensures that consumers get the freshest fruits and vegetables with maximum health-protective properties. N.C. State’s research at the N.C. Research Campus has led to improved harvest techniques for blackberries and raspberries. Ongoing research evaluates postharvest handling and environmental control to retain bioactive phytochemical properties that will ensure the maximum health-enhancing content from harvest to consumption, even after storage and processing.



The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service houses a multidisciplinary group of professionals at the N.C. Research Campus as part of the Plants for Human Health Institute. Providing expertise in farm business management, communications and marketing, and fresh produce safety, these Cooperative Extension staff serve as an outreach component to complement the research conducted at PHHI. As with all N.C. Cooperative Extension employees, the professionals at PHHI deliver practical applications of science-based research to the people of North Carolina. By securing grants and partnerships, the Cooperative Extension group builds additional educational resources and relationships that enhance the profitability of the N.C. agriculture industry and promote the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables across the state.

Through four focus areas – agricultural enterprise development and business skills education, fresh produce safety, horticultural production skills education and strengthening markets – the PHHI Cooperative Extension group works with:

  • Farmers – to provide research-based knowledge through online resources, workshops and the media. The team helps farmers tackle key issues, from pending regulatory changes in fresh produce safety to business development in traditional and alternative markets.
  • Consumers – to encourage the consumption of North Carolina-grown fruits and vegetables. Through The Produce Lady program, farmers learn how to increase sales, which helps return food dollars to local communities. Consumers learn how to select, store, prepare and preserve local produce.
  • N.C. State faculty, Cooperative Extension specialists and Field Faculty – through collaborative programming efforts to provide training and resources to Cooperative Extension agents at the 100 county Cooperative Extension centers and the Cherokee Reservation so they can extend university research and resources to North Carolinians and beyond.


Collaboration and Partnership

The N.C. Research Campus’ basic philosophy is that transdisciplinary research will lead to groundbreaking discoveries.

  • The N.C. Research Campus includes representatives from eight universities, one community college, the David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and corporate entities. Each brings expertise in specific areas that collectively will help to improve the nutritional value of food, identify prevention measures and cures for diseases, and generally improve human health and wellness. Faculty from the eight member universities interact and collaborate on innovative projects that offer great potential for comprehensive results. Nowhere else will you find Appalachian State University, Duke University, N.C. A&T State University, N.C. Central University, N.C. State University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, UNC Charlotte and UNC Greensboro located on the same campus. Rowan-Cabarrus Community College faculty offer on-campus biotechnology education to prepare the local workforce for research support positions.
  • N.C. State has embarked on an innovative direction in plant breeding by partnering with the Johnson & Wales University culinary education program in Charlotte. The N.C. State strawberry breeding program seeks to improve crop characteristics, markets and profits. This partnership also connects the culinary world with producers and scientists to build understanding and mutual appreciation.


Inspiring Future Scientists

N.C. State faculty mentor high school and undergraduate students and inspire the scientists of tomorrow.

  • Plants for Human Health Institute internships – Faculty provide students with the opportunity to learn laboratory techniques and to apply scientific methods in a hands-on environment at the state-of-the-art N.C. Research Campus. Intern opportunities are open to high school, community college and university students through a competitive application process.
  • On-campus tours and classroom visits – Engaging and challenging young minds with age-appropriate science lessons contributes to N.C. State’s commitment to STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). From growing cultures on a Petri dish to taste-testing nutritious fresh fruits, K-12 students are exposed to the possibilities of a career in science and technology.


History of the N.C. Research Campus

David H. Murdock, owner of Dole Food Company, Inc., envisioned a world-class research campus where collaborative science could yield discoveries in nutrition, health and plant sciences. Realizing the potential of the life sciences to help cure diseases and improve health, Murdock partnered with North Carolina to create an innovative, state-of-the-art research campus. The N.C. Research Campus has partnerships with public and private institutions of higher learning as well as local, national and global business ventures. About 30 miles north of Charlotte and 130 miles west of Raleigh, the N.C. Research Campus is located in Kannapolis. Where aging textile mill buildings once stood, modern laboratories and offices have risen. The first three campus buildings were dedicated and opened in October 2008.

Through the Plants for Human Health Institute, N.C. State plays an integral role in fulfilling the vision for the N.C. Research Campus.

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