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Liu Cao

  • Assistant Professor
    Environmental Science & Engr.

From my formative years in middle school, I developed a profound appreciation for the environment, a sentiment that has strongly influenced my academic and professional choice.

This fascination led me to delve into the multifaceted world of environmental research, focusing on the critical areas of water and wastewater treatment, management of emerging pollutants such as microplastics, and environmental microbiology. Through advanced techniques including next-generation sequencing and bioinformatics, I have extensively studied microorganisms, exploring how they function and interact with diverse environemntal matrices like anaerobic digesters, medical devices, indoor surfaces, and natural habitats. These studies have not only enhanced my understanding of microbial ecology but also paved the way for more sustainable and informed environmental practices.

Beyond the confines of the laboratory, I am deeply rooted in the embrace of nature. Activities such as hiking and contemplative reading amidst nature’s backdrop continually rejuvenate my spirit and strengthen my commitment to environmental preservation.

As an assistant professor at Gannon, I am passionately dedicated to imparting knowledge and making science both accessible and engaging for my students. With every lecture and hands-on experience, my ambition is to instill a profound sense of curiosity and respect for the myriad wonders of our environment.

  • Jun Lin (PI), Liu Cao (Co-PI), William C. Davis, and Yuehe Lin. 2023. 2023 UTIA AgResearch Seed Grant. Development of innovative anti-polystyrene mouse monoclonal antibodies and immunoassays for microplastic and nanoplastic analysis. $50,000
  • Jun Lin (PI), Xinmin Sun, Liu Cao (Coinvestigator). 2021. NIH 1R21 AI159745-01A1. Effect of bile salt hydrolase inhibitors on Clostridium difficile infection. $427,183. 09/01/2021 – 08/31/2023
  • ENV 120 Principles of Environmental Science
  • ENV 400 / GENV 542 Environmental Toxicology
  • ENV 401 Environmental Health and Toxicology Lab
  • ENV 403 Environmental Engineering
  • ENV 440 Industrial Health Risk Assessment
  • ENV 494/495 Senior Design
  • GENV 500 Research Methods
  • GENV 536 Environmental Chemistry
  • GENV 537 Environmental Chemistry Lab
  • Ph.D., University of Tennessee, Knoxville 2019
  • M.S., University of Missouri, Columbia 2014
  • B.S., East China University of Science and Technology, Shanghai, China 2012
  • American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE)
  • American Water Works Association (AWWA)
  • Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP)

Refereed Journal Articles:

  • Liu Cao, Ximin Zeng, and Jun Lin. 2023 Generation of polystyrene-specific antibodies for developing immunoassays to analyze microplastics and nanoplastics. Chemical Engineering Journal 465(1): 142843.
  • Dmitry S. Karlov, Sarah-Louise Long, Ximin Zeng, Fuzhou Xu, Kanhaya Lal, Liu Cao, Karim Hayoun, Jun Lin, Susan A. Joyce, and Irina Tikhonova. 2023 Characterization of the mechanism of bile salt hydrolase substrate specificity by experimental and computational analyses. Structure 31(5): 629-638.
  • Clifford S. Swanson, Rajiv Dhand, Liu Cao, Jennifer Ferris, C. Scott Elder, and Qiang He. 2023 Microbiome-scale analysis of aerosol facemask contamination during nebulization therapy in the hospital. Journal of Hospital Infection 134: 80-88.
  • Huiwen Wang, Liu Cao, Catherine M. Logue, Nicolle L. Barbieri, Lisa K. Nolan, and Jun Lin. 2022 Evaluation of immunogenicity and efficacy of the enterobactin conjugate vaccine in protecting chickens from colibacillosis. Vaccine 41(4): 930-937.
  • Yangkai Zhang, Liu Cao, Haibin Fu, Min Zhang, Jun Meng, Jalal T. Althakafy, Hala M. Abo-Dief, Salal M. El-Bahy, Yushun Zhang, Huanhuan Wei, Ben Bin Xu, and Zhanhu Guo. 2022 Effect of sulfamethazine on anaerobic digestion of manure mediated by biochar. Chemosphere 306: 135567.
  • Clifford S. Swanson, Rajiv Dhand, Liu Cao, Jennifer Ferris, C. Scott Elder, and Qiang He. 2022 Microbiome profiles of nebulizers in hospital use. Journal of Aerosol Medicine and Pulmonary Drug Delivery 35(4): 212-222.
  • Clifford S. Swanson, Rajiv Dhand, Liu Cao, Jennifer Ferris, C. Scott Elder, and Qiang He. 2022 Microbiome-based source identification of microbial contamination in nebulizers used by inpatients. Journal of Hospital Infection 122: 157-161.
  • Huiwen Wang, Li Zhang, Liu Cao, Ximin Zeng, Barbara E. Gillespie, and Jun Lin. 2022 Isolation and characterization of Escherichia albertii originated from the broiler farms in Mississippi and Alabama. Veterinary Microbiology 267: 109379.
  • Atsushi Hinenoya, Huiwen Wang, Erin M. Patrick, Ximin Zeng, Liu Cao, Xingping Li, Rebecca L. Lindsey, Barbara E. Gillespie, Qiang He, Shinji Yamasaki, and Jun Lin. 2022 Longitudinal surveillance and comparative characterization of Escherichia albertii in wild raccoons in the United State. Microbiological Research 262: 127109.
  • Liu Cao, Lu Yang, Clifford S. Swanson, Shuai Li, and Qiang He. 2021 Comparative analysis of impact of human occupancy on indoor microbiomes. Frontiers of Environmental Science & Engieering 15: 89.
  • Liu Cao, Chris D. Cox, and Qiang He. 2021 Patterns of syntrophic interactions in methanogenic conversion of propionate. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 105: 8937-8949.
  • Huiwen Wang, Ximing Zeng, Liu Cao, Qiang He, and Jun Lin. 2021 Passive Immunization of chickens with anti-enterobactin egg yolk powder for Campylobacter control. Vaccines 9(6): 569.
  • Shuai Li, Zhiyao Yang, Da Hu, Liu Cao, and Qiang He. 2021 Understanding building-occupant-microbiome interactions toward healthy built environments: A review. Frontiers of Environmental Science & Engineering 15: 65.

Conference Presentations:

  • Liu Cao, Linan Jia, Li Zhang, Xue Zhang, Wes Schilling, Jun Lin (2023). Oral administration of microplastic polystyrene increased incidence of woody breast myopathy in broilers. Speaker of the Conference of Research Workers in Animal Diseases 2023. Chicago, Illinois
  • Liu Cao, Huiwen Wang, Jun Lin (2021). Evaluation of three different commercial DNA extraction kits for chicken gut microbiota profiling. Speaker of the Conference of Research Workers in Animal Diseases 2021. Chicago, Illinois
  • Liu Cao, Qiang He, John Schwartz, Salley Reamer, Jen Schweitzer (2020). Impacts of fire on soil microbial communities in the GSMNP. Speaker of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Science Colloquium 2020. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
  • Liu Cao and Qiang He (2019). Modeling methanogenic processes: Conversion of short-chain fatty acids by syntrophy. Speaker of 28th Tennessee Water Resources Symposium. Montgomery Bell State Park, Burns, Tennessee
  • Liu Cao, Qiang He, and Chris Cox (2018). Deterministic shift of microbial community during stable anaerobic conversion. Speaker of ENVR/WR Seminar. Civil and Environmental Engineering. University of Tennessee
  • Liu Cao, Qiang He, and Chris Cox (2018). Major microbial community shift despite stable performance of anaerobic digestion. Speaker of 27th Tennessee Water Resources Symposium. Montgomery Bell State Park, Burns, Tennessee
  • Liu Cao and Enos Inniss (2013). Fabric settling screens for enhanced sedimentation at drinking water facilities. Poster Presenter of 18th Middle America Environmental Engineering Conference. University of Washington in St. Louis, Missouri
  • Liu Cao and Enos Inniss (2013). Enhanced sedimentation using fabric screens for reduction of organic precursors. Speaker of MWEA & AWWA Joint Annual Meeting, University Forum. Osage Beach, Missouri
  • Liu Cao and Enos Inniss (2012). Application of fabric settling plates enhancing sedimentation at drinking water facilities. Poster Presenter of 17th Middle America Environmental Engineering Conference. Edwardsville, Illinois
  • Liu Cao and Enos Inniss (2012). Using fabric settling plates to enhanced sedimentation at drinking water facilities. Poster Presenter of 2012 Spring Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievements Forum. Columbia, Missouri

I got my master’s and Ph.D. from environmental engineering, in which I worked on the following projects:

  1. Drinking water treatment – to eliminate the disinfection by-products in the drinking water treatment utilities.
  2. Wastewater treatment – to utilize anaerobic digestion process to treat high-load organics from waste such as cow manure, food waste, etc. In this project, I also extracted DNA and did the next-generation sequencing to analyze the bacterial food-web in the anaerobic digesters. Mechanisms of ecological microbial succession were also studied.
  3. Surface microbiome in built environment and medical devices – to investigate the human impact on surface microbial communities. Using sequencing techniques, we were able to provide insights into processes shaping the indoor microbiomes which help the development of effective strategies to control microbial exposure risks.

I also spent 2 and half years doing postdoc in Animal Science, where I conducted multidisciplinary research on the following topics:

  1. Micro-/nano-plastics detection – to develop antibody-based immunoassays to detect micro/nanoplastics in the environmental and animal samples.
  2. Impact of micro/nanoplastics on animal growth and health – to conduct animal studies to investigate the health effects of micro/nanoplastics on poultry production.
  3. Animal gut microbiomes – to assist evaluation of immunogenicity and efficacy of the animal vaccine (chicken and cow), to help assess the effectiveness of food animal growth promoter, and to study the mechanisms of antibiotics function on host.
  4. Environmental/foodborne pathogens analysis – to use sequencing and other molecular techniques to characterization of pathogens such as Escherichia albertii and Campylobacter jejuni and develop preventive strategies to control them.
  • Reviewer for the following peer-reviewed journals: Scientific Reports, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Applied Science, BMC microbiology, Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, Frontiers in Pharmacology, Veterinary Sciences, etc.
  • Event supervisor at 2023 TN State Science Olympiad (Division C)
  • Judge at Broadcom MASTERS
  • Judge at Tennessee Science Bowl (9 times)
  • Judge at International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF)
  • Judge at Southern Appalachian Science & Engineering Fair (SASEF) (3 times)
Liu             Cao

+1 8148715516
Office: Z 421

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