Min-Ken Liao

Min-Ken Liao

William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Biology

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Dr. Min-Ken Liao has been at Furman since 2000. She was trained as a bacteriologist, using genetic and molecular approaches to study the structure, function, and evolution of a membrane protein. Her current research focuses on the anthropogenic impacts on bacterial communities in urban environment. More specifically, she and her undergraduate researchers are using microbiological and molecular genetic techniques to investigate the genetic diversity of bacterial communities in streams. She is also involved in various interdisciplinary projects, collaborating with scientists on and off-campus. Supported by the funding from national and regional grants, her research team has presented and published more than 80 posters and papers in conferences and in peer-reviewed journals. Dr. Liao enjoys teaching courses in microbiology and genetics at all levels and has developed 8 new biology courses since 2000. She is also interested and was trained, in research in Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Dr. Liao is an active member of American Society for Microbiology (ASM). She was a Research Section Reviewer of Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education (JMBE) in 2012-2018 and the South Carolina branch Councilor of ASM in 2013-2015, and she is a Research Editor of JMBE in 2021-2023. Dr. Liao was the inaugural Executive Director of the Faculty Development Center in 2017-2020, during which she aimed to provide supports for faculty across their career span and to create a space for faculty to be and become. She also teaches yoga and mindfulness classes for students, faculty/staff, and community members. Dr. Liao was named the Henry Keith and Ellen Hard Townes Endowed Chair of Biology in 2008-2010. In 2021, Dr. Liao was named the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Biology, a lifetime appointment.


  • Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • B.S., National Taiwan University


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, G. Lewis, and M. Winiski. 2020. Do students learn better with Pecha Kucha, an alternative presentation format? J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. Accepted for publication
  • Wood, N. and M. –K. Liao. 2019. A pilot study of bacterial communities in soils under different land managements on a college campus in South Carolina. Nov. 2019, BIOS90 (2):112-121: doi.org/10.1893/0005-3155-90.2.112
  • Deshpande N. G., J. Saxena, T. G. Pesaresi, C. D. Carrell, G. B. Ashby, M.-K. Liao, and L. R. Freeman. 2019. High fat diet alters gut microbiota but not spatial working memory in early middle-aged Sprague Dawley rats. PLOS ONEhttps://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0217553
  • Liao, M. –K. 2016. A simple activity to enhance the learning experience of reading primary literature. J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. 18(1): doi:10.1128/jmbe.v18i1.1211
  • 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.