Mary Ann Lila, PhD


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 various sites throughout the globe, allowing consumers to make proactive, responsible dietary choices that benefit their own, and their families’ health.

Dr. Lila is currently a co-Director of an ambitious public-private Plant Pathways Elucidation Project (P2EP) which synergizes the talents of academia and industry to unravel the complex genomics and metabolomics of functional food crops.

Recent projects include USDA-funded initiatives on polyphenol attenuation of food allergies, an NIH-sponsored project on berries and bone health, a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Exploration Challenges project in Zambia, a NASA-sponsored project to develop stable functional protein-polyphenol colloidal particles to improve nutritive and sensory properties of portable food, an NIH NIDDKD project on functional food innovations; a major blueberry genome sequencing initiative using state-of-the-art NextGen sequencing capacity, which focuses on the genes relevant to health-protective properties in the fruits; and a USDA program on tribal resources and STEM education in American Indian/Alaska Native communities, the health protective properties of traditionally-used medicinal plants, and the threats imposed by climate change.

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 returns to Australasia at least once/year.