Plant Genetics and Nutritional Genomics
Department of Horticultural Science
Plants for Human Health Institute, NC State University

600 Laureate Way
Kannapolis, NC 28081

Phone: 704-250-5469



Dr. Massimo Iorizzo is a young scientist with extensive expertise in plant breeding, genetics and genomics. He received a MS in Crop Science from University of Naples Federico II (Italy) in 2005. In 2009, he completed his Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Genetics at the University of Naples Federico II and during his Ph.D. he spent 15 months as a visiting scientist at the University of Minnesota. Between 2010 and 2015, Dr. Iorizzo worked as a postdoctoral research scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Since 2015, Dr. Iorizzo has worked as an Assistant, then Associate Professor in plant genetics and nutritional genomics at the Plants for Human Health Institute, North Carolina State University.

Dr. Iorizzo’s past and current research aims to establish genetic and genomic resources that will ultimately elucidate the genes involved in the production of nutritionally-important phytochemical compounds (phytoactives) in fruits and vegetables in addition to other economically important plant characteristics, such as disease resistance. This research ultimately facilitates the selection of new crop varieties with improved nutritional characteristics and cost-effective production.

Dr. Iorizzo’s PhD research in potato has contributed to elucidation of molecular and biological mechanisms involved in plant defense response strategies and those that limit the introgression of wild potato plants into cultivated germplasm, to improve resistance to plant disease (1-3). He developed the first set of DNA markers for two wild potato species that are an important source of resistance to fungi, virus and bacteria (4) and he contributed to sequencing the first genome of a wild potato species that is an important source of freezing tolerance (5). For these research activities, in 2009, he received an outstanding Ph.D. Thesis Award from the Italian Association of Agricultural Scientific Societies.

While at UW-Madison, Dr. Iorizzo’s research focused on carrot, one of the most important sources of pro-vitamin A in the US diet and a model plant to study the genetic basis of nutritionally important phytochemicals such as anthocyanins, carotenoids and terpenoids. His research significantly contributed to establishment of the largest set of molecular resources ever developed for this crop to advance carrot breeding programs. In 2011 he published the first high-throughput sequencing and genotyping resources for carrot (6), which allowed elucidation of the origin and dynamics of carrot domestication (7). His comparative organelle genomes analyses provided the first evidence that mitochondrion-to-plastid DNA transfer occurs in plants (8-9), opening a new field of research on plant organelle genome evolution. He led the most comprehensive study on anthocyanin biosynthesis in carrot roots (10) and is currently leading a project to identify a gene that regulates the accumulation and diversification of anthocyanin in carrot root, that has an implication in their bioactivity and bioavailability. He recently led an ambitious crop genomics project focused on generating the first carrot genome sequence, which was published in Nature Genetics in 2016. The paper describes the identification of several genes related to phytonutrient accumulation and the identification of a candidate gene regulating carotenoid accumulation in carrot root (11). This research provided novel and important findings on the regulatory mechanisms leading to carotenoid and anthocyanin accumulation in plants. Ongoing efforts in carrot focus on improving the quality of the carrot genome assembly and gene model prediction using the latest sequence technologies. This research will ultimately provide new tools for molecular breeding to select carrot with higher nutritional value.

Since his appointment and NCSU on the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC), Dr. Iorizzo’s current research interests have expanded to several other crops. He has recently initiated a collaborative project with the Dole Nutrition Institute to establish genetic and genomic resources in banana and pineapple that can facilitate the development of new cultivars with improved important characteristics such as resistance to disease, accumulation of important metabolites, like carotenoid or dopamine in banana and bromelain in pineapple. Dr. Iorizzo is working on sequencing the blueberry genome and developing breeding and genomic strategies to increase blueberry nutritional value. He is the project director of a multistate project funded by USDA-NIFA aiming to establish the critical breeding needs for the cranberry and blueberry stakeholders (growers, nurseries and processing operations) in the US that will guide the future direction of cranberry and blueberry research. As an expert in plant genetics and genomics, Dr. Iorizzo is involved in collaborative projects aiming to develop genomic resources for other crops including cranberry, spinach and cucumber.

In the long term, Dr. Iorizzo’s research program will work to expedite the development of new varieties or natural products with improved nutritional value and sustainable production.


Synergistic Activities

  • Published 75 research publications including 30 peer reviewed journal articles, 1 research review, 6 contribution to books chapter or published proceedings and 40 published abstracts;
  • Invited speaker to 13 National and International meetings to present research outcomes.
  • Trained 22 personnel in plant breeding, molecular biology and genomic techniques including 6 visiting scientists, 10 undergraduate students and 6 PhD students.
  • Serve as member of advisory committee for 4 PhD students;
  • Serve as a member of the graduate admission committee at the Dept. of Hort. Sci. (NCSU);
  • Serve as a member of the Small Fruits Crop Germplasm Committee for the National Germplasm System;
  • Served as a member of two Search Committee for two Tenure track faculty positions;
  • Served and serve as peer reviewer for 16 peer reviewed journals.


Recent Grant Awards (last 2 years)

  1. PHHI-Raleigh seed grant initiative. Role: Co-PI. Title: Functional Genomics and Functional Phenotyping of Blueberry Fruits. Sponsor: NCSU. Period: 2015-2017.
  2. North Carolina Blueberry Council – Commodity proposal. Role: Co-PI. Title: Toward Mapping Quantitative Trait Loci (QTLs) for Fruit Firmness and Late Ripening in Southern Highbush Blueberry. Sponsor: North Carolina Blueberry Council. Period: 2016-2017.
  3. USDA-NIFA. Role: PI. Title: Research and extension initiative for cranberry and blueberry: Current and future needs. Period: 2016-2017.
  4. USDA-NIFA. Role: Co-PI. Title: Identifying phenotypes, markers, and genes in carrot germplasm to deliver improved carrots to growers and consumers. Period: 2016-2020.


Honors and Awards

Italian Association of Agricultural Scientific Societies,

Outstanding PhD thesis Award in plant breeding and plant genetics

University of Naples “Federico II”, PhD student fellowship 2005-2009
University of Naples “Federico II”, undergraduate student scholarship 1999-2005

(† indicate co-first authors)

  1. Iorizzo M., R. Aversano, J.M. Bradeen, L. Frusciante and D. Carputo (2011). Fertilization fitness and offspring ploidy in 3x x 2x matings in potato. Plant Biosystems, 146: 317-321.
  2. Bradeen J.M., Iorizzo, D.S. Mollov, J. Raasch, L. Cotton Kramer, B. P. Millet, S. Austin-Phillips, J. Jiang and D. Carputo (2009). Higher copy numbers of the potato RB transgene correspond to enhanced transcript and late blight resistance levels. Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions, 22: 437-446.
  3. Iorizzo M., D. Mollov, D. Carputo and J.M. Bradeen (2011) Disease resistance gene transcription in transgenic potato is unaltered by temperature extremes and plant age. European Journal of Plant Pathology, 130: 469-476.
  4. Iorizzo M.†, L. Gao†, H. Mann, A. Traini, M.L. Chiusano, D. Carputo, A. Kilian, and J.M. Bradeen. Structural genome comparison of A and B genome Solanum species facilitated by DArT marker/reference genome sequence analysis (2014). BMC Genetics, 15:123. Highly accessed article.
  5. Aversano R., F. Contaldi, M.R. Ercolano, V. Grosso, Iorizzo, F. Tantino, L. Xumerle, A. Dal Molin, C. Avanzato, A. Ferrarini, M. Delledonne, W. Sanseverino, R. Aiese Cigliano, S. Capella-Gutierrez, T. Gabaldon, L. Frusciante, J.M. Bradeen and D. Carputo (2015). The Solanum commersonii genome sequence provides insight into adaption to stress conditions and genome evolution of wild potato relatives. The Plant Cell, tpc.114.135954.
  6. Iorizzo M., D. Senalik, D. Grzebelus, M. Bowman, P. Cavagnaro, M. Matvienko, H. Ashrafi, A. Van Deynze, P. Simon (2011). De novo assembly and characterization of the carrot transcriptome reveals novel genes, new markers, and genetic diversity. BMC Genomics, 12: 389. Highly accessed article.
  7. Iorizzo M., D. Senalik, S. Ellison, D. Grzebelus, P. Cavagnaro, C. Allender, J. Brunet, D. Spooner, A. Van Deynze and P.W. Simon (2013). Genetic structure and domestication of carrot (Daucus carota sativus L.)(Apiaceae). American Journal of botany, 100: 930-938.
  8. Iorizzo M., D. Senalik, M. Szklarczyk, D. Grzebelus, D. Spooner and P. Simon (2012). De novo assembly of the carrot mitochondrial genome using next generation sequencing of whole genomic DNA provides first evidence of DNA transfer into an angiosperm plastid genome. BMC Plant Biology, 12: 61. Highly accessed article.
  9. Iorizzo M., D. Grzebelus, D. Senalik, M. Szklarczyk, David Spooner and P. Simon (2012). Against the traffic: The first evidence for mitochondrial DNA transfer into the plastid genome. Mobile Genetic Elements, 2: 1-6.
  10. Cavagnaro P.F.†, Iorizzo M.†, M. Yildiz, D. Senalik, J. Parsons, S. Ellison and P. Simon (2014). A gene-derived SNP-based high-resolution linkage map of carrot including the location of QTL conditioning root and leaf anthocyanin pigmentation. BMC Genomics, 15(1):1118.
  11. Iorizzo M., S. Ellison, D. Senalik, P. Zeng, P. Satapoomin, M. Bowman, M. Iovene, W. Sanseverino, P. Cavagnaro, M. Yildiz, A. Macko-Podgórni, E. Moranska, E. Grzebelus, D. Grzebelus, H. Ashrafi, Z. Zheng, S. Cheng, D. Spooner, A. Van Deynze and P. Simon (2016). A high-quality carrot genome assembly reveals new insights into carotenoid accumulation and Asterid genome evolution. Nature Genetics 48, 657–666.