Life Science Hour Seminar Series

Name:Mary Ann Lila
Affiliation:North Carolina State University
Title:If food is our medicine, shouldn’t we all be a lot healthier?
Date:Friday, 1 December 2017
Location:Murie Life Science Bldg, Murie Auditorium.
Host:Kriya Dunlap


There’s no question that plant foods (fruits, vegetables, and herbals) are able to synthesize complex chemical bioactive compounds (phytoactives) that are more sophisticated than any human synthetic chemist can create – and in many cases, more efficacious at preventing or treating chronic human diseases and metabolic disorders. Despite the fact that a wider diversity of produce than ever before is available to modern consumers, and ample evidence for effective disease prevention using certain diets is readily available in the popular press, the human race seems to be sliding down a slippery path to largely preventable ill-health. Why? One reason is the basic change that has occurred in both the plant and animal foods on offer in the supermarket – often quite a drastic change from a century ago. Wildcrafted plant foods that provided a plethora of phytoactives and nutrients have been transformed into blander, uniform produce with sometimes limited nutritive value. We’ve lost some of the critical nutrients and extranutritional components that were present in the wild. A second issue is related not to the foods, but to basic lifestyle choices in dietary habits and mobility. If plant science and food science research is expected to come up with answers to these conundrums, we can’t just ‘discover’, we have to deliver. Recent research has concentrated immunoprotective fruit and vegetable phytochemicals for delivery in convenient, and highly bioavailable functional food formats, e.g. colloidal protein-phytochemical aggregate particles that can serve as unprecedented ingredients to reverse the nutritional deficits. Sensory panels confirmed the favorable organoleptic properties of the ingredient, and recommended wider applications to counteract the negative trends of Western diets. Most recently, the phytoactive-protein chimeric ingredients were incorporated into snack food products with direct utility for meals in transit, and even for humanitarian aid efforts in undernourished populations. Simultaneously, the complexing of phytoactive-protein particles addresses structural and formulation challenges (e.g. bar hardening, thermal degradation, or ingredient separations) that are current challenges in the industries.

About the Speaker:

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. Lila is currently a co-director of an ambitious public-private Plant Pathways Elucidation Project (P2EP) which synergizes the talents of academia and industry.

Recent projects include a USDA-funded initiative on polyphenol-protein colloids for attenuation of food allergies, an NIH-sponsored project on berries and bone health, A Dole Nutrition Institute funded initiative on Nrf2 activators, 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 structural properties of portable food, an NIH NIDDKD project on functional food innovations and 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.

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. 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. 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, Lila won a Fulbright Senior Scholarship to conduct research and outreach in New Zealand, and returns to Australasia at least once/year.

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