Faculty Profile

Wen-Tso Liu

Civil and Environmental Engineering
Wen-Tso Liu
Wen-Tso Liu
Professor
3207 Newmark Civil Engineering Bldg
205 N. Mathews
Urbana Illinois 61801
(217) 333-8442

Administrative Titles

  • Arthur C. Nauman Endowed Professor
  • Civil and Environmental Engineering Excellence Faculty Scholar

Primary Research Area

  • Environmental Engineering and Science

Education

  • B.S. Civil Engineering, National Taipei University of Technology, Taiwan, 1984
  • M.Sc. Environmental Science, Rutgers ￿ the State University of New Jersey, 1989
  • M.Eng. Environmental Engineering, University of California at Berkeley, 1992
  • Ph.D. Urban Engineering, University of Tokyo, Japan, 1995

Biography

Dr. Wen-Tso Liu holds a B.S. (National Taipei University of Technology, Taiwan) in Civil Engineering, an MS (Rutgers University) in Environmental Science, an MEng (University of California at Berkeley) in Environmental Engineering, and Ph.D. (University of Tokyo, 1995) in Urban Engineering. He has been a professor at the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois since 2008.￿ Prior to 2008, Dr. Liu served as a professor at National Central University, Taiwan (1998-01) and at National University of Singapore (2001-08).￿ He also worked as a post-doctoral scientist at Michigan State University (1995-97) and Northwestern University (1997-98).

Dr. Liu has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in water quality control engineering, biological principles in environmental engineering, environmental microbiology, wastewater biotechnology, and current topics in environmental biotechnology.

Dr. Liu￿s recognitions include Arthur Nauman Endowed Professor and CEE Excellence Faculty Scholar at UIUC, the distinguished alumni award and honorary international professorship of National Taipei University of Technology (2012), the visiting professorship of Shanghai Jiao-Tung University (2006-2009), the Asian Young Biotechnologist Prize (2005), and National Science Council research award, Taiwan (2000). He is a member of the American Society of Microbiology, International Society on Microbial Ecology, International Water Association, and American Water Work Association.￿ He serves a member of the editorial board for several leading journals in Environmental Microbiology such as Microbial Ecology and the ISME journal by the publisher of Nature. He has contributed as a reviewer for more than 15 leading journals.

Academic Positions

  • Assistant Professor, National Central University, 1998-2001
  • Assistant Professor, National University of Singapore, 2001-2004
  • Associate faculty member, NUS Graduate School (NGS) for Integrative Sciene and Engineering 2003-2008 (0%)
  • Associate Professor, National University of Singapore, 2004-2008
  • Joint Appointed Faculty, Inst of Microelectronics, Singapore, 2005-2006(25%), 2006-2007 (50%)
  • Guest Professor, Shanghai Jiao-Tong Univ, China 2006-2009 (0%)
  • Visiting Associate Professor, National University of Singapore, 2008-2011 (0%)
  • Faculty member, Biocomplexity theme group, Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2008-present (0%)
  • Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2008-2011
  • Distinguished Visiting Professor, National Taipei University of Technology, Taiwan 2012-2013 (0%)
  • Chair, Environmental Engineering & Science program, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, UIUC, 2013-2015
  • Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2011-present

For more information

Research Statement

Dr. Liu￿s research focuses on "water microbiome" that describes the ecological roles of microbes in different water systems including watershed, drinking water systems, and wastewater treatment and reclamation systems. In studying water microbiome, the greatest scientific challenges are to fully understand the role of microbes and correlate the findings with comprehensive metadata (i.e., physical, chemical, and geological data) in individual water systems. In specific, it is critical to know who they are (microbial diversity), what and how they perform different metabolic functions (e.g. C and N cycling), and whether the microbial diversity and function can be influenced or controlled in water systems. The knowledge can be further used to improve water cycling within the natural and engineered systems, and to protect the public health.

Dr. Liu has conducted various research topics in the past two decades, including enhanced biological phosphorus removal processes, development of molecular tools such as terminal Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (t-RFLP), membrane bioreactors and membrane biofouling, biosensors, microbial ecology of drinking water distribution systems, nexus of syntrophs and methanogens in anaerobic digesters (AD), and water and bioenergy recovery. Among all ongoing projects, one is Digester Microbiome Project (DMP) funded by DoE. DMP explores the microbial diversity and function in anaerobic digesters (AD) using the next-generation DNA sequencing technologies with an ultimate engineering goal to maximize biogas (CH4) production in AD.

Research Interests

  • Drinking Water Microbiome: High-quality and safe drinking water is produced by continuously taking and treating source water through a conventional or advanced drinking water production plant, then transported through drinking water distribution systems (DWDS), and finally enters premise plumbing prior to human consumption at the tap. However, our understanding of microorganisms in drinking water (DW) or DW microbiome is limited, as majority of consumers still think drinking water as sterile and recent studies just start to uncover that microorganisms are ubiquitous during the process of drinking water production and distribution. One can simply ask 'why are microbes present in DW?' and 'where are they from?'. To effectively address fundamental questions pertained to drinking water microbiome, my group has applied meta-omics tools (e.g., metagenomics, metatranscriptomics, and metaproteomics) in long-term collaborations with local drinking water company and with researchers from different countries including the Netherlands and Switzerland. The final goal is to obtain a deep understanding of DW microbiomes by meta-omic tools in a systematic and cost-effective way so that the knowledge can be used by water utilities to better manage the water quality, shape the DW microbiome, and ultimately protect public health. Overall, these research activities support my grand vision toward to safeguard the sustainability of water that driving the growth of societal economy and basic human needs for better future.
  • Wastewater Microbiome: My current activities primarily focus on anaerobic digester microbiomes. In anaerobic digestion processes, the state-of-art sequencing technologies including metagenomics and single-cell genomics have been used to decipher the function of enigmatic and uncultured microbes. I am the lead PI for a DOE project 'Digester Microbiome Project (DMP)'. DMP explores the microbial diversity and function in anaerobic digesters (AD) using the next-generation DNA sequencing technologies with an ultimate engineering goal to maximize biogas (CH4) production in AD. I have also an ongoing long-term collaboration with a major soft drinking industry to develop an integrated treatment system to treat and reuse wastewater generated during the soft drink bottling process. After six years of laboratory studies, a one-year pilot-scale system was commissioned and completed with great success at a bottling plant in California in March 2017.
  • My research focuses on 'microbiome' that describes the ecological roles of microbes in different water systems (e.g., water shed, drinking water systems, and wastewater treatment and reclamation systems) and animal gut systems. In studying 'water microbiome', the greatest scientific challenge is to fully understand the role of microbes and correlate the findings with comprehensive metadata (i.e., physical, chemical, and geological data) in individual water systems. In specific, it is critical to know who they are (microbial diversity), what and how they perform different metabolic functions (e.g. C and N cycling), and whether the microbial diversity and function can be influenced or controlled in water systems. The knowledge can be further used to improve water cycling within the natural and engineered system, and to protect the public health. The challenges with 'gut microbiome' study are to understand the interaction between microbes and hosts and to improve host health by manipulating microbiome composition. To tackle the scientific challenge, I have leveraged on both conventional and advanced analytical methods. For microbiome analysis, the next-generation DNA sequencing (NGS) technologies are currently used to profile microbial diversity based on 16S rRNA gene as the biomarker, and to produce microbial genomes (i.e., metagenomics) and single cell genome from a single microbial cell within a microbial assemblage.

Books Edited or Co-Edited (Original Editions)

  • Liu, W.T and J. Jansson, ￿Environmental Molecular Microbiology￿, Caister Academic Press, 2010.

Chapters in Books

  • Kagia, K. and W.-T. Liu. 2014. The Family Dermatophilaceae. In S. Falkow, E. Rosenberg, K-H Schleifer, and E. Stackebrandt. The Prokaryotes: Actinobacteria. pp. 317-325 Springer.
  • Cheng, SS, TM Liang, R Anatrya. WT Liu. Development and Application of Anaerobic Technology for the Treatment of Chemical Effluents in Taiwan. In HHP Fang (Ed) Anaerobic Biotechnology: Environmental Protection and Resource Recovery. World Scientific Publishing Co., 2015.
  • Narihiro, T, MK Nobu, R Mei, WT Liu. Microbial community involved in anaerobic purified terephthalic acid treatment process. In HHP Fang (Ed) Anaerobic Biotechnology: Environmental Protection and Resource Recovery. World Scientific Publishing Co., 2015.
  • Liu, W-T. 2010. Terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP). In R. Seviour and P. H. Nielsen (Eds.). Microbial Ecology of Activated Sludge. IWA Publishing.
  • Prosser, J, J.K. Jansson, and W.-T. Liu. 2010. Nucleic-acid-based characterization of community structure and function. In W.-T. Liu and J.K. Jansson (Eds.). Environmental Molecular Microbiology, Caister Academic Press.
  • Liu, W.-T. and D. A. Stahl. 2006. Molecular approaches for the measurement of density, diversity, and phylogeny. In Hurst, C. J., Knudsen, G. R., McInerney, M. J., Stetzenbach, L. D., and Walter, M. V. (3rd Eds.) Manual of Environmental Microbiology, ASM press, Washington, D.C.
  • Liu, W.-T. and D. A. Stahl. 2001. Molecular approaches for the measurement of density, diversity, and phylogeny. In Hurst, C. J., Knudsen, G. R., McInerney, M. J., Stetzenbach, L. D., and Walter, M. V. (Eds.) Manual of Environmental Microbiology, 114-134. ASM press, Washington, D.C.
  • Liu, W.T., J.H. Wu, O.C. Chan, S.S. Cheng, I.C. Tseng, and H. H. P. Fang. 2001. Comparison of microbial communities in anaerobic granulated sludge reactors treating benzoate, methyl benzoate and terephthalate. pp. 79￿88. In Matsuo, T, Hanaki H, Takizawa, S., and Satoh, H. (Eds) Advances in Water and Wastewater Treatment Technology, Elsevier, Tokyo.
  • Ouyang, C.F., Y.J. Chou, T.Y. Pai, H.Y. Chang and W.T. Liu. 2001. Optimization of enhanced biological wastewater treatment processes using a step-feed approach. pp. 207-218. In Matsuo, T, Hanaki H, Takizawa, S., and Satoh, H. (Eds) Advances in Water and Wastewater Treatment Technology, Elsevier, Tokyo.
  • You, S.J., W.-T. Liu, M. Onuki, T. Mino, H. Satoh, T. Matuso and C.F. Ouyang. 2001. Identification on predominant microbial populations in a non-phosphate removal anaerobic aerobic bioreactor fed with fermented products. pp. 295-304. In Matsuo, T, Hanaki H, Takizawa, S., and Satoh, H. (Eds) Advances in Water and Wastewater Treatment Technology, Elsevier, Tokyo.

Journal Editorships

  • Board member of Advances in Asian Environmental Engineering, 2002 - 2008
  • Editorial Board of Applied Environmental Microbiology, 2004 - 2013
  • Associate editor of Microbes and Environments, 2003-2006, 2010 - present
  • Editorial Board of Microbial Ecology, 2006 - present
  • Editorial Board of the ISME journal, 2006 - present

Professional Societies

  • Member, International Water Association, 1987-present
  • Member, American Water Work Association, 2009-present
  • Member, American Society for Microbiology, 1995-present
  • Member, Singapore Society for Environmental Engineering, 2001-2008
  • Member, Association of Water Recycle and Reuse, Taiwan, 2001-present
  • Member, International Society for Microbial Ecology, 2004-2011
  • Member, American Environmental Engineering Professor Society, 2008-present
  • Committee member, Asia Environmental Biotechnology Society (2007 - present).
  • Secretary, IWA, Activated Sludge Population Dynamics specialist group (2005-2008).
  • Committee member, Internal Water Association (IWA), Activated Sludge Population Dynamics specialist group (2001-present)

Service on Department Committees

  • Chair, Environmental Engineering & Science program (May 2013- May 2015)
  • Member, CEE Promotion & Tenure committee (2014-2017)
  • Chair, CEE Promotion & Tenure committee (2015-2017)
  • Chair and member, CEE Faculty Search Committee for 6 faculty positions (2017-2018)

Service on Campus Committees

  • Member, the Wilfred F. and Ruth Davison Langelier Scholarship in Sanitary/Environmental Engineering Selection Committee, University of Illinois (2013 - present)
  • Member, Steering Committee, iSEE (Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment), UIUC (2014-present)

Honors

  • Distinguished Alumnus Award, National Taipei University of Technology (October 2012)
  • Honorary International Visiting Professorship, Department of Civil Engineering, National Taipei University of Technology (May 2012-May 2013)
  • Civil and Environmental Engineering Excellence Faculty Scholar (January 2013)
  • Arthur C. Nauman Endowed Professor (August 2014)

Teaching Honors

  • Engineering Council Advising Award, College of Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2013)
  • Best undergraduate poster presentation at the ISAWWA and IWEA Water Conference (WATERCON), Springfield 2012 (2012)
  • Best paper presentation award Bioengineering Students￿ Conference (2004)
  • Institute of Engineering Singapore (IES) publication award (2002)
  • Best Master Thesis Award (2001)

Research Honors

  • Best Student Poster Award (Masaru K Nobu) (Aug 2014)
  • Best paper award (Diversity and localization of microbial consortium in a full-scale phenol-degrading granular activated carbon anaerobic reactor) (2007)
  • 2005 Young Asian Biotechnologist Prize (2005)
  • JSPS Visiting Scientist (2003)
  • Research Award (2000)