Lead Research Faculty | Graduate Student Projects | Extension Research
Dr. Debora Esposito
Dr. Esposito’s primary scientific interests are biological chemistry and discovery of bioactive molecules in the area of inflammation and skin care, with a particular focus on regenerative medicine and cosmetic applications. Her research involves an interdisciplinary, broad-based tissue regeneration and repair research program that applies basic scientific discoveries in the areas of phytochemistry, regenerative medicine, and skin care to improve human health and wellbeing. Her lab focuses on application of plant-based bioactives to three interconnected research areas: 1) inflammation and tissue regeneration as it applies to wound healing and skin care; 2) cell-based biological screening in conventional, 3D matrices, and stem culture technologies; and 3) muscle aging and repair.
Dr. Mario Ferruzzi
Dr. Ferruzzi’s research goal is to identify food science strategies that will contribute to the development of improved food products that prevent chronic disease and enhance the quality of life for populations across the globe. His focus is on food and botanical chemistry, investigating the impact of the food matrix and processing on bioavailability and metabolism of health promoting phytochemicals and micronutrients. His lab works to 1) develop methods for determination of micronutrients and phytochemicals in complex food and biological matrices, 2) explore the physical and chemical interactions in the food matrix that optimize stability of micronutrients and phytochemicals, and 3) define food matrix and ingestive factors that impact delivery and efficacy of health promoting food components and their bioactive metabolites to target tissues. Funding support from USDA, USAID, NIH-NCCIH and Industry.
Dr. Tzung-Fu Hsieh
The Hsieh lab coordinates a research program studying the reproduction of flowering plants, including fruits and vegetables. He specializes in systems biology, a new field of research that studies the interactions between the components of biological systems, and how those relationships impact the functions and behaviors of the organisms. His area of focus is epigenetics, which seeks to understand changes in gene activities that are caused by factors other than variations in DNA sequences. His lab studies the development of endosperm, which plays a critical role in human nutrition and health. Cereal crops like corn, rice, wheat and oat are harvested for their grains, which are mostly endosperm. His research will provide new opportunities for investigating how the environment can exert influences on plants through epigenetic changes.
Dr. Massimo Iorizzo
The Iorizzo lab focuses on plant breeding and genomics to improve the nutritional value of small fruit and vegetables. The functionality of plant phytonutrients in the human diet depends on several factors, including the type of metabolites that a plant accumulates, their concentration and chemical structure. Dr. Iorizzo’s research program aims to understand the genetic mechanisms controlling the accumulation and diversification of health-promoting phytochemicals in small fruit crops and vegetables. This research will ultimately lead to establishing cost effective breeding and genomic strategies to develop new varieties or natural products with improved nutritional value.
Dr. Colin Kay
Dr. Kay works to understand metabolic transformation of phytochemicals (or plant compounds), and the impact this has on the biological activity of foods people eat. To achieve this understanding, Dr. Kay and his staff look at the relationship between diet and chronic diseases, in particular, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes and insulin resistance. He currently focuses on dietary phenolic and polyphenolic phytochemicals, but is also interested in other small molecules, including alkaloids, alpha and beta acids, betalains, terpenes and terpenoids. His lab currently develops and utilizes various analytical and screening methodologies, including metabolite libraries for targeted metabolomics screening of clinical samples. Funding support from the Wild Blueberry Association of North America, California Strawberry Commission, Dole Nutritional Research Institute and United Kingdom Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council.
Dr. Slavko Komarnytsky
The Komarnytsky lab is working to understand the pathogenesis of metabolic disorders and associated inflammation by identifying pathways important in the progression of obesity, diabetes and muscle loss. Using state of the art genomics and bioenergetics assays in cell culture and animal models, he investigates how genetic factors influence response to dietary bioactives and modulate cellular regulation of substrate metabolism in skeletal muscle and fat. Studies that he has been involved in show that brassinosteroids present in Brassica plants such as cabbage, kale, mustard and broccoli, trigger a physiological response in rats that is similar to anabolic steroids and results in an increase in lean body mass. He hopes these substances in plants can be used to provide effective, natural and safe alternatives for age- and disease-associated muscle loss, or be used to improve endurance and physical performance. Dr. Komarnytsky also serves as a co-investigator for the NIH Center for Botanicals and Metabolic Syndrome. Participants will visit the metabolic biology lab and a mammalian cell culture facility, where they will be introduced to our recent work on the effects of plant steroids on adipose tissue and muscle health.
Dr. Xu “Sirius” Li
The Li lab focuses on plant secondary metabolism. Paired with the study of plant genetics and a plant’s genome, this will help further the understanding of how bioactive compounds are produced by plants. Understanding how these compounds are made and accumulated in plants will enable us to produce crops, vegetables and fruits for enhanced health-promoting properties. Dr. Li also is part of a project funded by the Global Climate & Energy Project (GCEP) which is studying lignin, a plant compound that inhibits extraction of materials used in biofuels.
Dr. Mary Ann Lila
The LilaLab promotes a transdisciplinary approach to characterization of plant-derived bioactive chemicals (phytoactives) that interface with human therapeutic targets to modulate human health. Key global research partnerships with Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) are ongoing. Two lead projects currently underway involve mitigation of food allergy symptoms, using phytoactive molecules to modulate the immune system response. In addition, the LilaLab team examines the metabolic fate of phytoactive compounds in human fluids and interprets the biosignatures coincident with intake of key functional food groups. Funding support from USDA, NIH NICIH, NASA, and industry-sponsored projects.
Dr. Penelope Perkins-Veazie
The Perkins-Veazie lab works with a variety of fruits and vegetables evaluating genotypes, cultivars, production and environmental effects, storage strategies and packaging to develop postharvest technologies to extend quality and shelf life. Ways to conserve or improve bioactives in fruits and vegetables from farm to fork are explored. Research projects include new ways to utilize watermelon, both in health and in niche markets; evaluating new breeding lines of tomatoes for enhanced antioxidants; evaluating and extending the shelf life of small fruits including raspberry, blackberry and muscadine grape; following changes in vitamin A content of butternut squash with storage, variety, and production location, and evaluating food safety technologies on postharvest life and quality of vegetables.
Dr. Giuseppe Valacchi
Dr. Valacchi’s research is focused on the mechanism by which modified redox homeostasis can affect tissue physiology and develop in patho-physiological processes. His lab evaluates the effect of exogenous and endogenous sources of oxidative stress on target organs such as skin and lung and the signal pathways involved in the cellular responses to these insults, with special focus on epithelial would healing. He also studies how new topical approaches, derived from natural compounds, can ameliorate wound healing and tissue regeneration in both physiological and pathological situations. His research interests include understanding the role of oxidative stress and the affect of dietary intervention in the rare disease, Rett Syndrome.