Picture of Laura Ong

Laura E. Ong


Associate Professor of Biology


College of Arts and Sciences

Office Location:

Bristol Campus: White Hall 211

Office Phone:



Why do you go away?  So that you can come back.  So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors.  And the people there see you differently, too.  Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.
--Terry Pratchett

How many of us are happy to be exactly where we are at any moment?…only the completely happy think that they are in the correct place.
--Alexander McCall Smith


I always knew that I wanted to teach, even before I knew what I wanted to teach.  And now, after several years of academic and geographical roaming, I am thrilled to be back home in the mountains, teaching at King University.  I grew up in Greene County, Tennessee as a child of a music teacher and a tobacco breeder.  Since many of my extended family farmed tobacco, my initial interest in biology stemmed from a desire to boost disease resistance in crop plants, to help improve yields and incomes in farming communities.  However, once I started to learn the intricate details of the interactions between pathogens and their hosts, I began to appreciate all types of disease-causing microbes for their own sakes.  I love to learn about, and teach about, anything related to microbes and/or disease.

During my graduate work, I studied plant defense mechanisms at the cellular and molecular level.  My dissertation research focused on protein-level interactions between the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae and two of its plant hosts, soybean and the model plant Arabidopsis.  My research results indicated that a particular P. syringae virulence protein altered target proteins in soybean and Arabidopsis plants in similar ways, suggesting that both plants use related mechanisms to combat a single bacterial disease.  This research gives me hope that plant disease resistance research in Arabidopsis will translate fairly quickly and easily to the improvement of crop plants.

So far, the courses I have taught at King University are Principles of Biology, Microbiology and Immunology (for non-Biology majors), Microbiology (for Biology majors), Human Anatomy and Physiology 2, Cell Biology, Plant Biology, Interdepartmental Science Seminar, and an honors seminar in Modern Human Reproduction.  While I originally specialized in plants and microbiology, I really enjoy teaching human anatomy and physiology as well, because everyone has a body, and everyone should know how their body works! 

I am a mom to three handsome, noisy, messy, and absolutely perfect sons, and much of my time away from King is spent taking care of them.  In my remaining spare time, I love to sing, garden and read fiction, and my all-time favorite author is Alexander McCall Smith.  If I myself were a fictional character, I would probably be Hermione Granger or a hobbit.  I also love watching collegiate wrestling and traveling with my husband.


Ph.D., Indiana University (Molecular Biology and Genetics, 2006)

B.S., University of Kentucky (Agricultural Biotechnology, 2000)

Recent Publications and Presentations

Ong L.E. and Innes R.W. (2006)  AvrB mutants lose both virulence and avirulence activities on soybean and Arabidopsis.  Molecular Microbiology, 6: 951-962.

Ashfield T., Ong L.E., Nobuta K., Schneider C.M., and Innes R.W.  (2004)  Convergent evolution of disease resistance gene specificity in two flowering plant families.  The Plant Cell, 16: 309-318.

Balabas B.E., Montgomery B.L., Ong L.E., Kehoe D.M.  (2003)  CotB is essential for complete activation of green light-induced genes during complementary chromatic adaptation in Fremyella diplosiphon.  Molecular Microbiology, 50: 781-793.

Current research

Here at King, my main research interest is the study of arboreal diseases in Appalachian forests.  I am partnering with Steele Creek Park and other local landowners to establish several permanent forest plots in our area, to monitor overall health of hardwood forests and encroachment of invasive pests such as the emerald ash borer and the hemlock wooly adelgid.  This project will utilize my training in molecular mechanisms of disease resistance, and my love for the forests in our region.  I am also a Biology Scholars Program Fellow, in conjunction with the American Society for Microbiology.  As a BSP Fellow, I am implementing and designing student-centered learning strategies in my majors' Microbiology course.

Courses recently taught

BIOL 1020 LAB Human Anatomy and Physiology II Lab
BIOL 1020 LECT Human Anatomy and Physiology II
BIOL 2500 LAB Microbiology and Immunology Lab
BIOL 2500 LECT Microbiology and Immunology
BIOL 3300 LAB Cell Biology Lab
BIOL 3300 LECT Cell Biology
BIOL 4400 LAB Microbiology Lab
BIOL 4400 LECT Microbiology
IDST 4500 LECT Interdepartmental Science and Mathematics Seminar
KING 2000 LECT Transfer Year Seminar - STEM