Dr. Mary Ann Lila, director of North Carolina State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute on the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, has been named the first David H. Murdock Distinguished Professor.
Three Murdock professorships were created with a $2 million gift to N.C. State from David Murdock, owner of Dole Foods and other businesses. Murdock’s gift was matched with $1 million from the North Carolina Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund, and the $3 million total was used to create endowments that fund the three professorships.
The N.C. Research Campus is Murdock’s vision. He is collaborating with universities across North Carolina to transform Kannapolis, a former textile mill town, into a high-tech research center that will focus on developing a better understanding of human nutrition and foods with enhanced nutritional qualities.
The Plants for Human Health Institute, which is part of N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is playing a key role in making Murdock’s vision a reality. The efforts of institute scientists are focused on shifting the way the American public views and uses plant food crops as sources not just for nutrients but also for phytochemicals that protect and enhance human health.
Lila, who was named to direct the institute in 2008, is an internationally known scientist. Her research focuses on three areas: studying health-enhancing compounds in blueberries and other berries, isolating phytochemicals that counteract malaria, and working with scientists and students from around the world to explore natural products for biomedical use.
Working with the Global Institute for BioExploration, or GIBEX, a research and development network she helped start while she was on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign faculty, Lila works with scientists, students and traditional healers in developing nations and with Native Americans to identify plants that hold promise for human health. Lila’s work has taken her to Central and South Asia, New Zealand and Australia, Alaska and the Dakotas, Central and South America, and Africa.
A professor in N.C. State’s Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences, Lila is one of five N.C. State faculty members now working in the institute, which is expected to grow to 15 faculty members.