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Our research group is interested in the role of diet and nutrient-gene interactions in treatment and prevention of chronic metabolic diseases and associated inflammation. Within this theme, three major initiatives can be used to describe our work:

  • Using state of the art applications of pharmacogenomics and bioenergetics technologies to enhance understanding the pathogenesis of metabolic disorders by identifying pathways important in progression of diabetes, obesity, and inflammation;
  • Collaborating with scientists from various disciplines to access efficacy of botanicals and natural products to restore metabolic and energy balance within liver, muscle, adipose, and gastrointestinal tissues, including gut microbiome; and
  • Supporting education and development of students and scholars, including those from the developing countries, through biodiscovery from microbial resources, microbial diversity, and impact it may have on the safety and health of water users.

An increased understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms of a disease is essential to develop better and more effective preventive or therapeutic approaches.

Among the many projects currently being pursued in our lab are the following:

  • Molecular controls linking inflammation to diabetes. We are dissecting the signaling pathways and transcriptional mechanisms that mediate chronic inflammation and associated risk of diabetes. This allows us to define the mode of action of novel bioactive molecules to improve glucose metabolism and glycemic control through analyses of target gene and protein interactions, and preclinical studies in animal models.
  • Phenotypical screening in cell culture. We lead discovery of novel bioactives and understanding gene function within the context of energy metabolism in conventional animal and human cell cultures, 3D cell cultures, and stem cells with potential applications for pharmaceutical, food, and cosmetics industries.This also allows us to develop new genetic tools to directly map human health to plant genomes.
  • Establishment of structure-activity relationships of plant metabolites and health quality of fruits and vegetables. We determine biological activities of parent plant molecules and their breakdown metabolites to identify dietary constituents with maximal potential benefits to public health. These findings are critical to advance current agricultural, breeding, and genetic approaches to produce better crops.
  • Botanicals in muscle growth and disease. We have identified several small molecules that modulate signaling pathways and transcription factors involved in muscle growth and remodeling during disease. We are currently pursuing a variety of strategies to manipulate these pathways and to uncover additional regulators in muscle cells that enhance muscle strength, endurance, and physical performance.
  • Discovery and scientific validation of traditional ethnic medicines. We are dedicated to incorporating traditional medicinal knowledge into modern healthcare and ensuring it meets current safety and efficacy standards, in part by directing Mobile Discovery program. We are also exploring microbes of diverse habitats and unique environments for discovery of novel metabolites.


Our facilities consist of 3 functional units that offer a wide range of services to the research community, including cutting edge technologies, high end instrumentation, technical support, and education. Our lab personnel are highly trained experts in their field who provide technical expertise, consultation, and training. We are fully committed to enhancing and expanding the collaborative capabilities of research at NC State University, North Carolina Research Campus, and throughout the world.

  • Metabolic biology suite. The main lab is equipped with ABI Gene Amp 9700 PCR and 7500 Fast Real-Time PCR thermal cyclers, BioTek Synergy H1 microplate reader (absorbance, fluorescence, and luminescence), XF-24 Seahorse Extracellular Flux Analyzer, BD Accuri C6 Flow Cytometer, Sorvall RC6 Plus and Legend T Plus centrifuges, and multiple instruments for routine nucleic acid and protein analysis, including Western blot and ELISA.

  • Cell culture and phenotyping suite. The Biosafety Level 2 suite is equipped with a laminar-flow hood, CO2 incubator, Bellco Roll-In Incubator, EVOS FL Auto Imaging System with onstage incubator, Orflo Moxi automated cell counter, multiple refrigerators (4 °C), freezers (-20 °C), ulta-low freezers (-80 °C), and a liquid nitrogen freezer (-190 °C) for long-term storage and cryopreservation.

  • Analytical chemistry and microbiology suite. This suite handles isolation and characterization of microorganisms such as bacteria or fungi that are commonly found in soil, water, and plants (endophytes). It is equipped for extraction and quantification of natural products from fermentation and plant material to support discovery of novel pharmacological leads including a laminar-flow hood, isotemp incubators, New Brunswick Scientific Innova43 and I2500 shakers, Labconco Freezone18 bulk tray freeze drier, Buchi R210 rotavapor with Multivapor P12 parallel evaporator, bench centrifuges, scales, hotplates, vortexes, and pH meters.
  • Additional resources. We have unrestricted at-cost access to the excellent analytical capabilities of the DHMRI Core Facilities and AAALAC-accredited CLAS that encompasses state-of-the-art animal housing, laboratories, and support. We also have access to the UNC Chapel Hill Shared Core Facilities at the internal rates.