PHHI welcomes new researcher focused on berry and vegetable genomics and breeding

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 9, 2015

Dr. Massimo Iorizzo recently joined N.C. State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis. An assistant professor in the Department of Horticultural Science, Iorizzo’s research will focus on genetics, genomics, germplasm improvement and breeding of small fruits, such as strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and vegetable crops.

He will research the health-promoting phytoactive compounds inherent in fruits and vegetables, while also investigating strategies for selecting, concentrating and preserving these phytochemicals.

Iorizzo will begin his research effort at PHHI by working to identify molecular mechanisms regulating anthocyanin accumulation and diversification in carrots, in collaboration with Dr. Philipp Simon’s team at University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he worked as a postdoctoral assistant and an assistant scientist for the past five years. Ultimately, he will be developing an integrated genetic and genomic approach to identify genes regulating the accumulation of health-promoting phytochemicals in berries and vegetables.

PHHI’s interdisciplinary structure and the connection with the Department of Horticultural Science were attractive aspects of this position.

“I can help to link a plant genome to my colleagues’ research on plant phytochemical characterization, conservation and benefit to human health. This link will lay the groundwork for an effective strategy to breed for new varieties of berries and vegetables with increased nutritional value,” Iorizzo said.

“In addition to the contributions Dr. Iorizzo will make benefiting the berry industry in North Carolina through his research, he will be an enormous asset to our campus-wide Plant Pathways Elucidation Project (P2EP). He will interface with N.C. State and UNC Charlotte faculty as well as Dole Foods and General Mills scientists in this expanding program, and will mentor and guide the P2EP graduate students and interns,” Dr. Mary Ann Lila, director of the Plants for Human Health Institute, said in a written statement.

Iorizzo earned his doctorate in plant breeding and plant genetics from the University of Naples, Italy, in 2009. He most recently held an assistant scientist position at the University of Wisconsin Madison and has published more than 20 research articles.

The Plants for Human Health Institute now includes six lead research faculty, with three more expected to be hired this fall in the areas of regenerative medicine, translational nutrition and food allergies/ immunology. The institute employs 52 faculty and staff, including postdoctoral researchers, graduate students and Cooperative Extension associates.