N.C. State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) recently awarded more than $1 million through a seed funding program to promote collaborative, transdisciplinary research efforts between PHHI faculty and fellow faculty in N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). The two-year grants are intended to forge new professional relationships, foster a better understanding of the unique mission and vision of the PHHI, and develop foundational research that will lead to future funding opportunities, building on the outcomes of these short-term projects.
N.C. State University employs research faculty at locations across the state of North Carolina. The Plants for Human Health Institute is a part of the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis, N.C., one of many N.C. State “remote” locations. With N.C. State’s main campus located in Raleigh, N.C., more than 100 miles separate faculty at PHHI from their home departments in the CALS. N.C. State’s presence at the N.C. Research Campus affords PHHI faculty a unique opportunity to work in proximity to faculty from seven other universities, who share an overarching goal of improving human health through advances in nutrition and agriculture.
In 2013, CALS set forth a strategic plan identifying five core strategic themes to offer foundational focus as the College continues to grow. “The mission of the Plants for Human Health Institute, namely, discovering plant-based solutions to advance human health, perfectly aligns with the College’s core initiatives spelled out in our strategic plan,” says Dr. Steven Lommel, associate dean for research in CALS and director of the N.C. Agricultural Research Service. He continues, “To fulfill the objectives and goals of the strategic plan, Dr. Mary Ann Lila, director of the Plants for Human Health Institute, created the seed grant program to support collaborative projects between main campus and PHHI investigators.”
The five funded projects include 24 principal investigators (PIs) from eight academic departments. PHHI is home to six lead researchers, five of whom will serve as lead PIs on the seed grants. One project, Functional Genomics and Functional Phenotyping of Blueberry Fruits, was dubbed the “megaproject,” accounting for nearly one-third of the funds awarded. Other projects are investigating: bitter-tasting prebiotics for gastrointestinal health, hypoallergenic polyphenol-edible protein matrices, black raspberry’s health benefits and crop potential, and regulation of specialized metabolism in hops.
Lila says, “Our researchers, myself included, are happy to establish new initiatives with our colleagues in CALS, working on a diverse selection of mission-driven projects. We look forward to sharing intellectual resources and becoming more familiar with each other’s experience and expertise with the hope of identifying future opportunities for collaboration and further research.”