Plants for Human Health Institute

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Coordinates: 35°30′05″N 80°37′26″W / 35.501486°N 80.624012°W / 35.501486; -80.624012

Plants for Human Health Institute
Plants for Human Health Institute logo.jpg
Plants for Human Health Institute logo
Established October 20, 2008
Research type Interdisciplinary
Director Dr. Mary Ann Lila
Address 600 Laureate Way
Location Kannapolis, North Carolina, United States
Campus North Carolina Research Campus
Affiliations North Carolina State University

The Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) is a North Carolina State University research and education organization located at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, North Carolina, USA. The institute is devoted to research involving food crops, like fruits and vegetables, and the potential health-promoting properties they convey when consumed.

PHHI is part of the North Carolina State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, which staffs the institute with faculty from the departments of horticultural science; food, bioprocessing and nutrition sciences; plant and microbial biology; genetics; and agricultural and resource economics.[1] The institute has both research and Cooperative Extension components. Dr. Mary Ann Lila, a world-renowned blueberry researcher,[2] is director of the Plants for Human Health Institute.[3]


The Plants for Human Health Institute building at the N.C. Research Campus, Kannapolis, N.C.

N.C. State began operations in Kannapolis in 2007 as the Fruit and Vegetable Science Institute. The name was changed to Plants for Human Health Institute when the N.C. Research Campus was officially dedicated on October 20, 2008.[4]

As of September 2012, PHHI is home to around 50 faculty and staff in Kannapolis, not including seasonal interns and staff throughout the year.[5]



Plants for Human Health Institute researchers explore and enhance the health-promoting properties of fruits and vegetables.[6] The institute employs seven lead researchers, plus postdoctoral associates, lab technicians and graduate students, with plans to expand to 14 researchers.[7]

PHHI researchers often target naturally occurring chemical compounds in plants and fresh produce, known as phytochemicals. Institute director, Dr. Mary Ann Lila, and other PHHI researchers have made discoveries involving phytochemicals, like anthocyanins found in blueberries and other produce, indicating they provide health benefits against cancer and other chronic human diseases when consumed.[8] In August 2013, Lila was a lead researcher in a study involving athletes ingesting blueberry and green tea-infused drinks twice daily during a two-week supplementation period and then for three days of rigorous exercise. Among the results, participants experienced a prolonged spike in their metabolism (up to 14 hours) after exercise.[9]

Dr. Penelope Perkins-Veazie, postharvest physiologist with PHHI, evaluates food safety, quality and consumer-appeal characteristics, like fla­vor and color, for fruits and vegetables.


Plants for Human Health Institute researchers integrate expertise in biochemistry, plant breeding, epigenetics, metabolomics, pharmacogenomics, postharvest physiology and systems biology.[10] PHHI research faculty have led the team that sequenced the blueberry genome,[11] discovered evidence that plants of the Brassicaceae family (like mustard greens and kale) could increase muscle mass in people suffering from debilitating disease and the effects of aging,[12][13] and developed functional food ingredients from health-enhancing plant compounds for undernourished populations in Africa.[14] The institute is also home to multiple plant breeding programs, including broccoli,[15] cabbage[16] and strawberries.[17]

Greenhouse Complex[edit]

The Plants for Human Health Institute greenhouse complex in Kannapolis, N.C.

The Plants for Human Health Institute operates three greenhouses near the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis. The $340,000 greenhouse complex was developed to strengthen N.C. State’s infrastructure at the N.C. Research Campus. The greenhouses provide about 10,000 square feet of additional space for plant trials on crops like broccoli and strawberry, and allow the institute to rent space or collaborate on research with other campus operations and businesses.[18]

Researchers also partner with the Piedmont Research Station, a 1,000-acre research farm located near Salisbury, N.C., to grow and test field crops.[19][20]

Kannapolis Scholars[edit]

A $1 million U.S. Department of Agriculture – Agriculture & Food Research Initiative (USDA-AFRI) grant is funding a transdisciplinary graduate training program, known as the Kannapolis Scholars. Led by Dr. Jack Odle, William Neal Reynolds Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at N.C. State, the program recruits graduate students from multiple disciplines who are provided the opportunity to participate in integrated research with the Plants for Human Health Institute and other N.C. Research Campus partners to solve complex problems within the broad domain of functional foods, bioactive food components and human health.[21]

A group of 30 faculty members from eight universities in North Carolina serve as mentors to the Kannapolis Scholars. The mentors represent multiple disciplines, including food science, nutritional science, plant science, animal science, microbiology, biochemistry and metabolomics. Thirteen faculty are resident on the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis while 18 faculty are located on the associated university campuses.[22]


N.C. Cooperative Extension personnel, like Diane Ducharme (second from left), work with researchers in areas including postharvest handling of fresh produce at N.C. State University's Plants for Human Health Institute in Kannapolis, N.C.

The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service houses a multidisciplinary team at the N.C. Research Campus as part of the Plants for Human Health Institute. The team serves as an education and outreach component to complement the research conducted at PHHI. The Cooperative Extension team focuses on farm and agribusiness management, communications and marketing, and fresh produce safety.


In addition to and in partnership with PHHI research programs, the Cooperative Extension group coordinates educational and outreach efforts, secures grants and delivers practical applications of science-based research to strengthen the agriculture industry in North Carolina.

The N.C. Value-Added Cost Share Program (NCVACS), coordinated by the Cooperative Extension team at PHHI, provides assistance to agricultural operations in the form of cost share awards. The program has awarded more than $1 million to support agribusinesses in North Carolina since it began in 2009. The N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission funds the program.[23]

The N.C. Cooperative Extension component of PHHI serves as a cooperative development center for the state, with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development program. The group works with producer groups and cooperatives to help expand economic activity in their communities.[24]

PHHI is home to the N.C. Fresh Produce Safety program, an effort led by Cooperative Extension staff with the institute. The program was created to educate fruit and vegetable growers about measures to minimize food safety risks. The program's training curriculum addresses specific areas of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and managing risks.[25]


Dr. Blake Brown, Hugh C. Kiger Professor in agricultural economics at N.C. State, started the Program for Value-Added and Alternative Agriculture in 2006 with support from the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. The program was originally created to assist the transition of tobacco-farm families to other profitable enterprises after the Tobacco Buyout in 2005.[26]

As part of N.C. State's burgeoning efforts at the N.C. Research Campus, the program relocated to Kannapolis in 2008 as an on-site Cooperative Extension complement to the research personnel and programs with the new Plants for Human Health Institute. The program operated under the N.C. MarketReady brand from October 2009 until July 2012.[27] The program has since dropped the name and been fully integrated into the Plants for Human Health Institute as the N.C. Cooperative Extension component.

N.C. Research Campus[edit]

The N.C. Research Campus

The N.C. Research Campus is a public-private venture including eight universities, one community college, the David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and corporate entities that collaborate to advance the fields of human health, nutrition and agriculture. It was founded by David H. Murdock, CEO of Dole Foods. The campus is built upon the former site of the Cannon Textile Mill in Kannapolis, about 30 miles north of Charlotte.

The research campus represents an effort by the state of North Carolina to revitalize the region following the decline of the textile industry. The campus is supported mainly through annual funding from the state of North Carolina, federal research grants to university researchers located on the campus, and investment of real estate by Murdock, former owner of the Cannon textile mill that previously occupied the site.

It was announced in November 2013 that two new facilities were breaking ground at the Kannapolis campus, including a 50,000-square-foot data center (DataChambers) and a 100,000-square-foot municipal center (the new Kannapolis City Hall).[28]

The Plants for Human Health Institute is housed on the campus in a 105,000-square-foot facility that includes research labs, lab support areas and an Advance II 700 US-2 Magnet nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscope.[29]


Since beginning operations, the Plants for Human Health Institute has received $2.1 million in gift donations and $7.8 million in federal and private competitive grants, $1.42 million from the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, $2 million from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, $780,000 from the University of North Carolina General Administration, and $1.05 million from commodity groups and other private sponsors. This funding is in addition to state appropriations.[1] PHHI research programs have also received significant grant funding support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation[14] and the National Institutes of Health.[30]


  1. ^ a b Research Impacts from the 2012 Chancellor's Report, Part 1 N.C. Agricultural Research Service, N.C. State University (10/4/2012)
  2. ^ The billionaire who is planning his 125th birthday, The New York Times Magazine (3/3/2011)
  3. ^ North Carolina Research Campus website (retrieved 1/22/2013)
  4. ^ N.C. Research Campus dedication, WBTV, Charlotte (10/20/2008)
  5. ^ N.C. State snags new plant scientist, continues growth at N.C. Research Campus, Greenhouse Management magazine (9/21/2012)
  6. ^ Fruit and vegetable research grows, Growing Magazine (March 2009)
  7. ^ NCSU adds two scientists to its NC Research Campus branch, (6/16/2011)
  8. ^ Why wild plants can protect you from cancer, The Dr. Oz Show (5/4/2011)
  9. ^ Influence of a Polyphenol-Enriched Protein Powder on Exercise-Induced Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in Athletes: A Randomized Trial Using a Metabolomics Approach, PLOS ONE Peer-Reviewed Scientific Journal (retrieved 12/7/2013)
  10. ^ Plants for Human Health Institute website (retrieved 1/23/2013)
  11. ^ Researchers draft genetic roadmap of blueberry, The Grower (9/28/2011)
  12. ^ Homobrassinolide enhances myogenic potential of satellite muscle cells., Esposito D, Raskin I, Komarnytsky S (2012) Homobrassinolide enhances myogenic potential of satellite muscle cells. In Vitro Cellular & Developmental Biology - Animal 48(S1): S31
  13. ^ Mother Nature's steroids, The Charlotte Observer (1/6/2013)
  14. ^ a b N.C. Research Campus operation wins Gates grant, Charlotte Business Journal (11/8/11)
  15. ^ Geneticist works to breed better produce, The Charlotte Observer (8/17/2012)
  16. ^ Research begins for new cabbage breeding program, The Packer (2/14/2012)
  17. ^ Building a better berry, The (Raleigh) News & Observer (6/27/2011)
  18. ^ N.C. State opens greenhouses in Kannapolis, Charlotte Business Journal (8/7/2012)
  19. ^ Cabbage breeding program kicks off in North Carolina,, American Vegetable Grower (2/13/2012)
  20. ^ Program touts benefits of local fruit to culinary students,, part of the Salisbury Post (4/4/2011)
  21. ^ USDA awards $1 million to North Carolina State University to train students in human health and nutrition, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, United States Department of Agriculture (11/19/2009)
  22. ^ Kannapolis Scholars website (retrieved 1/23/2013)
  23. ^ N.C. State program awards funding to expand 13 agricultural businesses,, Southern Farm Network (4/4/2012)
  24. ^ USDA announces funding for cooperatives to create jobs and nurture rural business development, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development program (10/5/2010)
  25. ^ N.C. Cooperative Extension hosts fresh produce safety trainings for farmers, The Fuquay-Varina Independent (9/1/2010)
  26. ^ Project: Value Added Projects for Tobacco Farmers in Transition, N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission - 2005 grant recipients (retrieved 1/24/2013)
  27. ^ N.C. MarketReady is new name for the value-added agriculture program Perspectives, N.C. State University (10/20/2009)
  28. ^ NC Research Campus to host second groundbreaking within a month, Salisbury Post (11/18/2013)
  29. ^ Plants for Human Health Institute building specs, Turner Construction (retrieved 1/23/2013)
  30. ^ N.C. State University awards, National Institutes of Health Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools database (retrieved 1/24/2013)

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