Liggins Institute


Our research explores the ways in which nutrition at each point in the lifespan affects long-term health and response to disease.


Across the lifespan food is a major determinant of heath.

Liggins scientists were among the first in the world to identify associations between a lack of appropriate nutrition during the early stages of life and developmental changes leading to chronic adult conditions such as obesity and diabetes, learning and behavioural disorders and effects on subsequent generations. Research groups across the Liggins Institute are exploring aspects of nutrition in relation to their particular research themes.

The quality of nutrition throughout life is an important aspect of maintaining health and reducing disease later in life. Our multidisciplinary human nutrition research programme is focused on identifying the factors that link good nutrition to long-lasting health.



Human Nutrition Research Programme

Food contains a complex array of chemicals that directly affect genes, cell signalling and metabolic pathways within our bodies. This multidisciplinary research programme is focused on identifying the key genetic and cellular mechanisms that link good nutrition to long-lasting health.


Current projects

Molecular nutrition and non-communicable disease (NCD) prevention

Nutrients control the programming and expression of many thousands of genes. We are investigating the mechanisms through which nutrients control genes, particularly in adipose tissue and muscle. We are examining the molecular actions of bioactive lipids, including omega-3 fatty acids and phospholipids, on tissue growth, inflammation and insulin sensitivity.

Nutritional strategies in ageing

Human ageing is associated with the loss of muscle mass and insulin resistance. Reduced muscle mass may lead to falls, fractures and loss of independence. Increased insulin resistance is implicated in the accelerated loss of muscle mass and is a key step in the development of diabetes. Our studies explore the interplay between gene expression, epigenetic regulation and stem cell renewal in human muscle.

Dynamic responses to meals

With each meal, nutrients enter the body and activate the genetic and molecular responses required for nutrient storage, metabolism and immunity. We are building comprehensive profiles of the signalling and responses that occur in circulating immune cells, adipose tissue and muscle. Currently we are investigating the dynamic post-meal gene, inflammation and metabolomic responses to fats (including dairy, soy and palm) and proteins (including dairy, soy and red meat).


Student projects available

  • Integrating the metabolomic and transcriptomic responses to ingested nutrients in human adipose and skeletal muscle
  • Defining the absorption and impact novel lipids exert on post-meal inflammatory responses
  • The metabolomics and transcriptomics of skeletal muscle in responses to altered physical demands, including exercise and inactivity
  • The epigenetics of muscle mass gain in humans
  • Understanding the origins of suppressed protein synthetic response to ingested nutrients in older individuals

Contact Professor Cameron-Smith
Read about postgraduate research and opportunities at the Liggins Institute


National Science Challenge – High-Value Nutrition

HVN logo

The first of the Government-funded National Science Challenges, High Value Nutrition, is hosted at the Liggins Institute. The Challenge is headed by the Institute’s Research and Deputy Director, and Professor of Nutrition, David Cameron-Smith.

The aim of this 10 year research programme is to create economic benefit through developing functional foods with validated claims to improve health at all stages of the life-course. As New Zealand's single biggest research investment in food, the Challenge presents opportunities for scientists and industry to work together in a multi-disciplinary environment.

Read more about the High-Value Nutrition Challenge.



The Food and Health Programme

The Liggins Institute contributes to The University of Auckland's Food and Health Programme.

The Food and Health Programme is a major trans-disciplinary research and teaching programme drawing on specialist expertise in food science, process engineering, nutrition, health, social sciences, business and commercialization from across the University of Auckland to improve health outcomes, enhance innovation and growth in the New Zealand food and beverage sector, discover fundamental knowledge for future application and provide high quality university-trained graduates to the sector.

Visit the Food and Health Programme web pages