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Mary Ann Lila

Director, Plants for Human Health Institute

David H. Murdock Distinguished Professor

Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences

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Mary Ann Lila is Director of the Plants for Human Health Institute, North Carolina State University, North Carolina Research Campus. She holds the David H. Murdock Distinguished Professorship, and is a Professor in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing, and Nutrition Sciences. Through ground-breaking, transdisciplinary discovery and outreach, her team of faculty at the Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) pioneers a dramatic shift in the way the American public views and uses food crops – not merely as a source of nutrients and flavorful calories, but as a powerful resource for components that protect and enhance human health. Integrated research in metabolomics, biochemistry, pharmacogenomics, molecular breeding, regenerative medicine, translational food science and nutrition and postharvest are aimed at development and promotion of mainstream fruit and vegetable produce with enhanced health benefits, and introduction of new or underappreciated crops and products from around the globe, allowing consumers to make proactive, responsible dietary choices that benefit their own, and their families’ health. Dr. Lila’s is a recent recipient of the Babcock-Hart Award for food technology/public health (through the IFT), and the Copernico Bronze Medal for Food Science & Nutrition.

Recent projects include a Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) grant on ‘Closing the gap in delivery of fruit and vegetable benefits’; a USDA-funded initiative on polyphenol-protein aggregates for attenuation of food allergies; a USDA ANNH initiative on ‘Back to the River; the science behind Alaska’s traditional subsistence lifestyle’; a USDA SCRI CAP grant on leveraging genomic and genetic resources to enable improved blueberry and cranberry fruit quality attributes; a USDA/ARS Pulse Crop Health Initiative; and a Phase II USDA SBIR on ‘Clean, cost-effective technology to recover and stabilize phytoactive fruit compounds from waste streams’.

Lila was formerly Director (2006-2008) of ACES Global Connect (the international arm of the College of ACES, University of Illinois) and Associate Director of the nationally acclaimed Functional Foods for Health Program (1997-2000) at the University of Illinois. Dr. Lila has been honored with the Paul A. Funk Scholarship Recognition Award (the premier research award in the College of ACES, University of Illinois), the Spitze Professorial Career Excellence Award, the Faculty Award for Excellence in Research, the University Scholar Award, the Amoco Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Instruction, and the Lilly Endowment Teaching Fellowship. Dr. Lila has ongoing research projects in Australia, New Zealand, and various countries in Europe and Africa, and is Vice President of the Global Institute for BioExploration (GIBEX). In 1999, Dr. Lila won a Fulbright Senior Scholarship to conduct research and outreach in New Zealand, and (at least before COVID) returns to Australasia at least once/year.


BSc Horticultural Science University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

MSc Plant Pathology University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

PhD Plant Biology University of Wisconsin at Madison

Area(s) of Expertise

Over the past two decades, Dr. Lila's research has centered on bioactive phytochemical food constituents, particularly phytoactive flavonoids, with demonstrated efficacy against chronic human diseases including CVD, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer, and neurological disorders, and with the capacity to mitigate immunosuppression coincident with strenuous exercise/exertion.

The primary emphases of the LilaLab are (1) rigorous phytochemical structural characterization (2) elucidation of phytochemical interactions that potentiate benefits for human health maintenance, (3) development of functional ingredients that stabilize the bioactive properties of these otherwise ephemeral constituents and enhance food structures, (4) interpretation of bioefficacy, and (5) characterization of the bioavailability and bioaccessibility of plant-derived metabolites.

My program leverages our ongoing work with rural native communities to access and examine in depth local botanical resources, including indigenous arctic berry genotypes, featuring highly-concentrated and intricate inherent phytochemical profiles.

Our North Carolina State University laboratory is located in a transdisciplinary research center – the North Carolina Research Campus – that features state-of-the-art instrumentation and resident expertise applicable to this project including metabolomics, clinical/human performance laboratories, and pharmacogenomics.

  • 2021 Copernico Bronze Medal (University of Ferrara)
  • 2020 Babcock-Hart Public Health Award (ILSI NA & IFT)
  • 2020 Equity for Women Award finalist, the NC State Council on the Status of Women
  • 2017 Top 25% most cited articles in PLOS ONE as of June 2017 (PMID: 23967286)
  • 2015 Tanner Award in recognition of Most Cited Paper of 2012 published in the Health, Nutrition, and Food section of the Journal of Food Science
  • 2010 David H. Murdock Distinguished Professorship
  • 2007 Spitze Land Grant Professorial Career Award
  • 2003 Fellow, Society for In Vitro Biology