Current Research Projects

Key Research Focus

1hIntegrated research in metabolomics, genomics, biochemistry, phytochemistry, pharmacogenomics, breeding and epigenetics are aimed at development and promotion of fruits, vegetables and other edible plant material 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. Learn more…



Federal, Foundation and Internally-Funded Projects

Back to the River
A USDA NIFA Alaska ANNH Grant #2018-04720. “Back to the river: the science behind Alaska’s traditional subsistence lifestyle” ($440,998; 08/01/18-07/31/21) features a mobile discovery lab on a riverboat, using the sled dog as a sentinel for human health and nutrition, and traversing the length of the Yukon river, visiting AK Native fish camps and other sites. Learn more…






Closing the Gap in Delivery of Fruit & Vegetable Benefits
.  Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research.  Challenge Area:  Making ‘My Plate’ Your Plate. $2,005,846 (1 July 2017-30 June 2021).  Our overall goal is to develop strategies that close the gap between present consumption levels and the health benefits of fruits and vegetables through improvement of nutritional quality and delivery.  The Central Hypothesis is that expansion of strategies to include identification of genetic factors that influence bioavailability of micronutrients and phytoactives can be synergized with emerging food production technologies to deliver more nutrition and health benefits within current consumer lifestyle and dietary habits.  Translation of these strategies can bridge the gap between production and consumption through generation of more effective consumer produce and products.

VacciniumCAP: Leveraging genetic and genomic resources to enable development of blueberry and cranberry cultivars with improved fruit quality attributes.  $13M (1 October 2019-30 September 2023)  The Vaccinium (blueberry and cranberry) industries have identified development of cultivars with improved fruit quality (firmer texture, good flavor, appealing appearance) and longer shelf life as top research priorities critical to future success.  This project aims to deliver empirical data to breeders and enhanced tools to select for high fruit quality.  The project will enable us to: a) understand how and which fruit characteristics affect fruit quality b) generate DNA information and develop innovative genotyping tools to routinely and efficiently select genotypes with improved fruit quality attributes c) identify specific fruit quality characteristics, and c) estimate the levels of such fruit quality characteristics that will increase and sustain consumer purchases. Learn more

USDA ARS FY2021 Pulse Crop Health Initiative.  Pulse-fruit aggregate ingredients with enhanced taste, functionality and health attributes for diversified food applications.  $291,336  (July 2021-June 2024) In this 3 year plan of work, we A) Develop a scalable and environmentally-friendly processing route for high quality pulse-fruit aggregate ingredients, and demonstrate their health-relevant composition, physicochemical and functional attributes and digestibility in vitro; B) Scale-up the production of one prioritized pulse-fruit aggregate ingredient to formulate mainstream pulse shelf-stable ready-to-eat products in a convenient, appealing format and C) Evaluate the pulse-fruit food product (delivery vehicle for phytoactive content and fiber) in a human clinical trial for management of MetSyn and obesity risk factors.

USDA SBIR Phase II:  Clean, cost-effective technology to recover and stabilize phytoactive fruit compounds from waste streams  $649,853 (Sept 2021-August 2023)  This Small Business Innovation Phase 2 Research Project features continuous microwave-assisted extraction, pasteurization and sterilization of pomace-derived polyphenols from small fruits, and incorporation into shelf-stable functional ingredients, and clinical trial using an intervention formulated with protein-polyphenol matrix.  Commercial partner with FruitSmart.

National Mango Board:  Influence of 2-weeks Ataulfo mango ingestion on inflammation resolution after vigorous exercise.   $179,060 Prime:  ASU; subcontracts UNC-G & NCSU.


  • Retraining the Immune System: Mitigating Allergic Responses using Hypoallergenic Peanut Protein-Polyphenol Aggregates.  Funded by USDA  Learn more…
  • Development and Analysis of Hypoallergenic Polyphenol-Edible Protein Matrices using Translational Models




Evaluation of saffron (Crocus sativa L.) as high value culinary and medicinal niche crop.

A USDA NIFA 1890 Capacity Building Grant (Kentucky State prime) explores the potential to repurpose Midwestern tobacco farmlands with a highly lucrative specialty spice crop.   ($599,965; 12/01/18-11/30/21)

Food Matrix Functionality
Proteins of plant (chickpea, rice, pea) or animal (whey) origin are complexed with plant polyphenols in a green chemistry approach to create meso-scale chimeric particles that can dramatically enhance the physical structure functionality of food products. The complexation process is used to steer protein aggregation to produce functionally inert particles (ingredients), resulting in improved foaming characteristics and creep recovery. These particles, when incorporated into a food matrix (e.g. protein bars), effectively extend the availability/digestibility of health-protective polyphenols and proteins in foods as well as the shelf life and optimal texture. Funded by: NASA.


Genomics and Metabolomics

  • Functional Genomics and Functional Phenotyping of Blueberry FruitsThe main goals of this project are: i) to generate blueberry genomic resources to facilitate completion of the blueberry genome assembly and to construct genetic maps to assist molecular breeding; ii) to use systems level approaches to study blueberry fruit development; iii) to study biofunctions of blueberry phytochemical profiles using a comprehensive suite of phytochemical analyses and in vitro assays; and iv) to develop and distribute news releases and educational materials, including community outreach and educational programs with local schools, to advocate wider public understanding of how research conducted at PHHI impacts human health.

Industry Funded Projects

  • Whole food functional matrices
  • Sports recovery & muscle damage
  • Immune system/antibody responses
  • Prebiotic fibers, skin repair, plant protein functionality

Recently Completed Research Projects

Six species of coastal Alaskan seaweed (Alaria marginata, Fucus distichus, Pyropia fallax, Saccharina groenlandica, Saccharina latissima, and Ulva lactuca) were evaluated in multiple in vitro assay systems for their potential to attenuate diabetes and obesity, and the underlying phytochemistry that might play a role in the observed bioactivity was investigated. Learn more…

Working with the Gates Foundation’s Medicines for Malaria Venture, the Lilalab worked in conjunction with Rutgers University as well as the University of Cape Town in order to uncover new candidates in the fight against malaria. Learn more…

AK/ND Education
In this project, awarded from the USDA Higher Education Challenge (HEC), the Lilalab collaborates with education experts at North Carolina State University, Rutgers University, the University of Alaska Anchorage, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and United Tribes Technical College in North Dakota to develop a lab/lecture curriculum based upon hands-on  investigation and bioassays of indigenous/endemic plants of historic importance to the Traditional Ecological Knowledge.  Learn more…

Zambia BMGF
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Nutrasorb-Zambia Project developed and validated an innovative, portable and highly stable protein-rich food source (fortified with bioactive fruit constituents and comprised of locally-available produce) to enable year-round healthy growth and development of undernourished mothers and children in Zambia and to establish the scientific foundations, network, and infrastructure to support subsequent technology transfer to facilitate sustainable regional implementation of the program in partnership with universities, entrepreneurs and government in Zambia. Learn more…

Plant Pathways Elucidation Project (P2EP): Elucidation of the genomic and metabolomic strategies and pathways taken by plants to synthesize and accumulate phytoactive compounds.  P2EP is a unique public-private partnership that links industry and academic principal investigators, PhD candidates, and undergraduate scholars in transdisciplinary investigative teams, and intensive summer internship programs. Funded by: UNC GA, Duke Energy Foundation, Dole Nutrition Institute, General Mills, and more.