Mary Ann Lila

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

Ph.D., University of Wisconsin
M.S., University of Illinois
B.S., University of Illinois

Campus Address:
600 Laureate Way
Kannapolis, NC 28081

Lab Personnel:

Mary Grace, Senior Researcher
Renee Strauch, Senior Researcher
Charles Warlick, Laboratory Research Technician
Lorie Beale, Laboratory Research Technician

More information about Mary Ann Lila

Dr. Mary Ann Lila’s research focuses on the bioactive compounds found in some foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, that confer human health protection when ingested. The benefits of eating foods and beverages rich in these compounds are well-established, according to Dr. Lila, but the identity, metabolic fate and protective mechanisms of the compounds have not been defined in all cases. Dr. Lila’s research is aimed at identifying these bioactive compounds and metabolites, and understanding how they work. She is particularly interested in compounds that appear to help counteract chronic disease and promote endurance.

The LilaLab looks at food plants not for nutritional or caloric value, but with the goal of discerning the preventative, curative or therapeutic properties hidden in every bite. Plants have long been recognized as having pharmaceutical properties, but the pharmaceutical industry relies mostly on synthetic active ingredients. With greater understanding of the biological activities in edible foods, individuals may, one day, be prescribed a ration of curative foods to combat diseases, rather than a dosage of drugs. Dr. Lila’s lab works to identify these bioactive compounds and define the protective mechanisms which will ultimately lead to recommendations for how much or how often a food should be consumed to confer health benefits. She works specifically with blueberries, black currants, cranberries and other berries. The pigment responsible for the red or deep blue colors is anthocyanin, a compound associated with heart-health, cognitive benefits, cancer chemoprevention and antidiabetic properties.

As a result of Dr. Lila’s efforts to locate and study plants around the world (bioexploration), her research has taken on an international flavor. She has undertaken extensive research projects in Egypt, Central Asia, Oceania, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile and sub-Saharan 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 tries to return to New Zealand regularly  for ongoing research efforts. In addition, Dr. Lila has served as the U.S. correspondent for the International Association of Plant Biotechnology and as president of the Society for In Vitro Biology. She is also a fellow of the society, and served for four years as associate director of the nationally acclaimed Functional Foods for Health Program.

In 2010, Dr. Lila was named the first David H. Murdock Distinguished Professor. Three Murdock professorships were created with a $2 million gift to N.C. State from David H. Murdock, the then-owner of Dole Foods. Murdock’s gift was matched with $1 million from the North Carolina Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund, and the $3 million total used to create endowments that fund the three professorships. Dr. Lila is an affiliate faculty member at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, serves on the editorial boards for Annual Reviews in Food Science and Technology and Nutrition and Healthy Aging, and serves on several industry science advisory boards.  In 2020, Dr. Lila was awarded the Babcock-Hart award through the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).  This award honors an IFT member who has attained distinction by contributions to food technology which result in improved public health through nutrition or more nutritious food.


Mary Ann Lila