Dr. Min-Ken Liao has been at Furman since 2000. She was trained as a bacteriologist, using microbiology and molecular genetic approaches to study the structure, function, and evolution of a membrane protein. She and her undergraduate researchers are using microbiological and molecular genetic techniques to study the genetic diversity of bacterial communities in the environment. Together they have presented and published more than 40 posters and papers. Dr. Liao enjoys teaching courses in microbiology and genetics at all levels, and she is also interested in research in Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. She was a research resident of the Biology Scholars Program in 2008-2009. Dr. Liao is an active member of American Society for Microbiology and is one of the Research Section reviewers of Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education, a PubMed indexed journal. Dr. Liao was named the Henry Keith and Ellen Hard Townes Endowed Chair of Biology in 2008-2010 and is a council member of the South Carolina Academy of Science.

Name Title Description


Seminar in Biology

Presentations of current topics in biology by students, faculty, and visiting scientists. Emphasis is on effective oral communication and critical examination of scientific information and ideas.


Principles of Biology

The basic principles common to living organisms, including: cell and molecular biology, genetics, organismal physiology, ecology, evolution. All sections address these topics, but the focus for each may vary. Designed for non-science majors.



Introduction to the study of inheritance. Topics include: transmission of genes in cellular and organismal reproduction, structure and arrangement of genetic material in the cell, control and function of genes, and population genetics. Equal emphasis given to inheritance patterns and molecular genetics. Laboratories include testing the genetics of Drosophila and other organisms, and basic molecular techniques.



Investigation of the biochemistry, physiology, immunology, pathogenicity, isolation and identification of microorganisms, particularly bacteria. Laboratory work includes standard procedures for studying the physiology of bacteria and the identification of unknown bacteria.


Public Health Biology

A study of the biological principles of human diseases and conditions of public health importance and the applications of the principles in biology and public health for treatments and preventions. Laboratory work includes microbiology, computer exercises, and field trips.


Infectious Disease Ecology

The impacts of ecosystem changes on emerging and reemerging infectious diseases in animals and plants (both domestic and wild) and how these diseases influence communities, ecosystems, and human welfare. Laboratories include field and lab work.


Infectious Disease in Movies

A study of the microbiology, immunology, and epidemiology behind infectious diseases and their portrayal in films, including comparisons of some old and new horror and science fiction movies to examine changes in scientific knowledge and discussions of fear, stigma,and morality in society.


Superhero Genetic Disorders

A study of the molecular and genomic bases of human genetic disorders and their causes by using the characteristics of fictional superheroes as examples. The social, legal, and ethical issues related to disease diagnosis and treatments and human biotechnology will also be discussed.


Human Genetics

A study of the molecular, cellular, physiological and population bases of human genetic disorders. Additional topics include techniques, pedigrees, risk assessment and ethics. Laboratory exercises include techniques in cytogenetics and molecular genetics, case studies and discussions.


Microbes and Society

An introduction to microorganisms, their structure and function, their diversity and phylogeny, and their impacts on humans and society as vital systems for human health, useful applications, agents of disease, and constant public health concerns.

Dr. Liao and her student researchers are interested in the impacts of land use change on the microbial communities in freshwater and soil habitats. They study the diversity of bacterial communities and the distributions of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and antibiotic-resistant genes in these habitats and track the source of bacterial contaminations in water. They use microbiological and molecular biology techniques to answer research questions, such as whether there are more antibiotic-resistant bacteria in urban areas, whether a poultry processing plant changes the genetic diversity of E. coli populations in water, and what and how tetracycline-resistant genes are transferred between bacteria in water. They find these studies relevant and exciting, and the more they discover, the more questions they have! Dr. Liao is also interested in research in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and strives to practice evidence-based teaching in classrooms and teaching laboratories.

*Denotes undergraduate coauthor

  • Liao, M. –K. 2015. An integrated view of the One Health movement: The oneness of human health. Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education, 16(1): 99
  • Anderson, B. W.*, S. McCauley*, G. P. Lewis, and M.-K. Liao. 2014. Impacts of a poultry processing plant on the diversity of Escherichia coli populations and transferability of tetracycline resistance genes in an urban stream in South Carolina. Water, Air & Soil Pollution 225:2030.
  • Liao, M. –K. 2012. Food Microbiology 101. Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education, 13(2): 200.
  • Liao, M. –K., J. Pommerville, and M. Mawn. 2012. Tailoring Teaching for Demographically Diverse Learners. American Society for Microbiology Conference of Undergraduate Educator.
  • Liao, Min-Ken and Sarah Worth. 2011 Lessons Learned by a Philosopher and a Biologist in Team Teaching a First-Year Seminar on "Disease and Culture: Why You Are a Walking Petri Dish." In Team Teaching. Ed. Kathryn M. Plank. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing. pp., 37-53.
  • Liao, M. –K. 2011. Will the Scientists Please Step Forward? Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education, 12(1): 85-6 (Invited book review).
  • Liao, M. –K. 2010. Create a bacterium: an engaging semester-long assignment. Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education, 11(2): 168-171.
  • Lewis, G. and M. –K. Liao. 201 0. Urban Influences on Bacteria in Streams of the Upper Piedmont, South Carolina. South Carolina American Society for Microbiology.
  • Liao, M. –K. and M. Winiski. 2009. Combined Use of a Conference Program Book and Concept Maps for Student Exploration of the Diversity of Microbiology Sub-disciplines. MicrobeLibrary Curriculum Collection September issue.
  • Lewis, G. P., J. Mitchell, C. B. Andersen, D. C. Haney, M. –K. Liao, and K. A. Sargent. 2007. Urban Influences on Stream Chemistry and Biology in the Big Brushy Creek Watershed, South Carolina. Water, Air and Soil Pollution 182:303-323.
  • Liao, M. –K. 2007. Cross-disciplinary Approaches to Study the Biotransformations of γ-hydroxyamides and Biological Impacts of Tetracycline. Merck Scholar of Chemistry Department, Appalachian State University.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
National Taiwan University

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