Two news scientists join Kannapolis research institute

Plants for Human Health Institute logo
KANNAPOLIS – N.C. State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis announces that two more scientists will join its faculty this summer. Beginning July 1, Dr. Slavko Komarnytsky and Dr. Xu “Sirius” Li will begin work at the campus, filling pharmacogenomics and metabolic pathway engineering positions, respectively.

The positions will bring the N.C. State lead research faculty positions to seven, half of the projected positions that will ultimately make up the research branch of the Institute.

Dr. Slavko Komarnytsky is a plant biologist with a research focus in pharmacogenomics of bioactive compounds and functional foods. Pharmacogenomics involves explaining the mechanisms by which bioactive plant compounds provoke changes in mammalian gene expression and ultimately contribute to enhanced human health and fitness. Scientists use animal models to understand how humans respond to disease.

Komarnytsky will explore how various foods and the compounds they contain may be used to control and prevent human metabolic disorders, such as diabetes, inflammation and obesity. He will work to develop techniques to discover health benefits of food products beyond basic nutrition.

Komarnytsky holds a doctorate in cell and molecular plant biology from Rutgers University. His master’s and bachelor’s degrees, in cell biology, and biology and chemistry, respectively, are from Kyiv Shevchenko University in Kiev, Ukraine. He most recently held a faculty research associate position at Rutgers. He will be an assistant professor in N.C. State’s Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences.

Dr. Xu Li, a plant metabolic pathway engineer, will work to develop a platform for the discovery of secondary metabolites – important compounds in plants that convey human health benefits – and understand how they develop and accumulate in plants. He will research ways to make fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries, broccoli and strawberries, even healthier.

Li holds a doctorate in biochemistry from Iowa State University. His master’s and bachelor’s degrees in plant physiology and plant molecular and developmental biology, respectively, are from Peking University in Beijing, China. Most recently a postdoctoral research assistant with Purdue University, he will be an assistant professor in N.C. State’s Department of Plant Biology.

“The addition of these two researchers will further strengthen and expand our research focus,” said Dr. Mary Ann Lila, director of the Plants for Human Health Institute. “They each bring expertise that will complement our current faculty efforts. Their work will help us discover the specific health-enhancing characteristics of plants as well as enhance our work in individualized nutrition.”

The Plants for Human Health Institute currently includes five lead research faculty with 22 postdoctoral researchers, graduate students and staff members and another 10 extension outreach faculty and staff. The Plants for Human Health Institute is pioneering a dramatic shift in the way the American public views and uses food crops, not merely as sources of nutrients and calories, but as powerful resources for compounds that protect and enhance human health and well-being.

The N.C. State University Plants for Human Health Institute is part of the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis. Its Cooperative Extension outreach is known as N.C. MarketReady. The campus is a public-private venture including eight universities, the David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI) and corporate entities that collaborate to advance the fields of nutrition and health. Learn more at

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