Maofu Liao received his Ph.D. degree from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 2006. For his Ph.D. thesis, he worked with Dr. Margaret Kielian and studied the mechanism of virus-cell membrane fusion. He then joined Dr. Yifan Cheng’s group at UCSF and focused on using cryo-electron microscopy to study protein structure and function. Maofu was appointed Assistant Professor of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School in 2014, and promoted to Associate Professor in 2018.
The research interests of Liao lab focus on using high-resolution cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) to understand the structure, function and regulation of membrane proteins and other molecular machines. The goal is to uncover fundamental mechanisms of protein machineries, and also push the development of new methodology in cryo-EM. Single-particle cryo-EM emerges as a transformative approach for structural biology, mainly driven by several technical breakthroughs in recent years. Traditional X-ray and electron crystallographic methods for solving structures require the formation of well-ordered crystals, which often becomes a roadblock for structural analysis. In contrast, cryo-EM directly images the macromolecules frozen in buffer solution, and thus circumvents the need of crystallization. Cryo-EM has a number of other important advantages, such as small amounts of sample needed for EM analysis, suitability for studying different functional states, and computational sorting of mixed conformations from a single sample.