Picture of Han Chuan Ong

Han Chuan Ong


Associate Professor of Biology


College of Arts and Sciences

Office Location:

Bristol Campus: Sells Hall 202A

Office Phone:



Men honor what lies within the sphere of their knowledge, but do not realize how dependent they are on what lies beyond it. - The Zhuangzi


Although I come from a family of accomplished teachers -- my dad, a math and English teacher, was the assistant principal at my elementary school -- I never thought I would choose teaching as my vocation. In a way, I was intentionally ignoring my own DNA. The inspiration to teach eventually came in the form of my freshman biology professor, Dr. Austin Brooks. It was simply enthralling to be taught by him because he made learning fun, simple, exciting, and lasting. Therefore, one of my life-long goals is to become an effective teacher like him.

My graduate training in molecular biology and genetics focused primarily on studying the evolution of plant mitochondrial genes and genomes. The result was a dissertation on why and how mitochondrial genes move intracellularly (from the mitochondrion to the nucleus) and horizontally (from the mitochondria of one plant to another). This inquiry was extended to the study of chloroplast genomes of marine and freshwater algae for my postdoctoral research at the University of Washington in Seattle.

At King University, I teach the following courses: Principles of Biology, General Biology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, and Evolutionary Biology. I have led many study abroad trips over the years and will continue to lead more in the future.

For leisure, I think I am a good student of cooking and love to hone my skills at classical singing. Also, the presence of my three sons necessitates constant upkeep of the house and their hygiene.


  • Post-doctoral Research, University of Washington (Genome Science & Molecular Biology)
  • PhD, Indiana University (Molecular Biology & Genetics). Dissertation: Intracellular and horizontal transfer of mitochondrial genes in grass evolution: pseudogenes, retroprocessing, and chimeric genes.
  • BA, Wabash College (Biology)

Recent Publications and Presentations

Ong H.C., Rice D.W., Barendt S.M. and Palmer J.D. Mosaic Genes and the High Rate of Neutral Horizontal Gene Transfer in Plant Mitochondrial Genomes. In prep.

Wu Z., Sloan D.B., Brown C.W., Rosenblueth M., Palmer J.D. and Ong H.C. (2017) Mitochondrial retroprocessing promoted functional transfers of rpl5 to the nucleus in grasses. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 34:2340-2354.

Thomas D.J., Boyd M., Curtwright A.E., Foll M.N., Kuehl M.M., McQueen V.M., Middaugh C.R., Moore V.M., Moreno M.G., Morgan C.A., Powers M.P., Reeves K.M., Robinson G., Ward K.R. and Ong H.C. (2011) A biological inventory of Meacham Cave (Independence County, Arkansas). Journal of the Arkansas Academy of Science, 65.

Ong H.C., Wilhelm S.W., Gobler C.J., Bullerjahn G., Jacobs M.A., McKay J., Sims E.H., Gillett W.G., Zhou Y., Haugen E., Rocap G. and Cattolico R.A. (2010). Analyses of the complete chloroplast genome sequences of two members of the Pelagophyceae: Aureococcus anophagefferens CCMP1984 and Aureoumbra lagunensis CCMP1507. Journal of Phycology 46:602-615.

Cattolico R.A., Jacobs M., Zhou Y., Chang J., Duplessis M., Lybrand T., McKay J., Ong H.C., Sims E. and Rocap G (2008). Chloroplast genome sequence analysis of Heterosigma akashiwo CCMP452 (West Atlantic) and NIES293 (East Pacific) strains. BMC Genomics 9: 211 (17 pages).

Ong H.C. and Palmer J.D. (2006). Pervasive survival of expressed mitochondrial rps14 pseudogenes in grasses and their relatives for 80 million years following three functional transfers to the nucleus. BMC Evolutionary Biology 6: 55 (16 pages).

Adams K.L., Ong H.C. and Palmer J.D. (2001) Mitochondrial gene transfer in pieces: fission of the ribosomal protein gene rpl2 and partial or complete gene transfer to the nucleus. Molecular Biology & Evolution 18: 2289-2297.

Current research

Current Research and Professional Activities

I am interested in studying the adaptation by photosynthetic organisms when they shift to a low-light habitat. Most of these organisms thrive in caves and deep pools; and the state of Tennessee is especially rich in such habitats. I am interested in documenting the microbial composition in these habitats, hoping to understand their diversity, distribution, and adaptation to such environments.

Courses recently taught

BIOL 1110 LAB Principles of Biology Lab
BIOL 1110 LECT Principles of Biology
BIOL 3170 LAB Molecular Biology Lab
BIOL 3170 LECT Molecular Biology
BIOL 3770 LAB Molecular Biology Lab
BIOL 3770 LECT Molecular Biology
KING 2000 LECT Transfer Year Seminar
LIBS 4000 LECT The Quest for Career and Vocation