Brian Pfleger

Associate Professor

3629 Engineering Hall
1415 Engineering Drive
Madison, WI 53706

Ph: (608) 890-1940
Fax: (608) 262-5434
pfleger@engr.wisc.edu

Primary Affiliation:
Chemical and Biological Engineering

Additional Affiliations:
Biomedical Engineering, Biotechnology Training Program, Cellular and Molecular Biology Program, Chemistry-Biology Interface Training Program, Genome Sciences Training Program, Microbiology Doctoral Training Program


Profile Summary

In the 20th century, chemical engineers developed the methods and the underlying principles to convert fossil fuels into the array of chemical products that enable our current lifestyle. Unfortunately, this system is not sustainable and societal pressures to change it are increasing. The next generation of chemical engineers will develop new methods to make products from renewable resources such as biomass or harness solar energy to power the conversion of carbon dioxide to chemicals. A closed carbon cycle will require efficient chemical and/or biological routes to generate products that can be cleanly combusted to yield energy and carbon dioxide. My long term vision of the chemical industry involves the use of modern biotechnology, and specifically synthetic biology, to engineer systems where chemicals are produced sustainably from sunlight and carbon dioxide.

Synthetic biology combines elements of engineering, mathematics, chemistry, and biology to synthesize novel systems from characterized biological components. With rapid advances in DNA sequencing and synthesis technologies, synthetic biology has evolved from classic recombinant DNA technologies wherein a small number of genes were actively manipulated, to a state where small genomes can be synthesized and transformed into protoplasts to enable self-replication. The next generation of synthetic biologists will develop the tools and understanding necessary to build microorganisms from scratch and help delineate the ethical boundaries of what systems should be engineered. Like other engineering disciplines, synthetic biologists apply fundamental principles of math and science to assemble useful devices and products. The difference in this case is the ability of biological systems to self-replicate and evolve. Therefore, synthetic biology research involves (a) identifying new biological components and quantitatively characterizing their biochemical or biological function, (b) developing tools for quick assembly of novel systems comprised of biological components, (c) engineering novel systems to solve problems and (d) optimizing the performance of biological systems in the context of an evolving organism. My group has made contributions to each of these aspects by studying the production of chemicals from renewable resources. Our work can be categorized into four areas: component discovery and characterization, tool development, metabolic engineering, and systems biology.

Education

  • PhD Chemical Engineering - University of California Berkeley - 2005
  • BS Chemical Engineering - Cornell University - 2000

Research Interests

  • Metabolic Engineering
  • Biotechnology
  • Synthetic Biology
  • Natural Products
  • Protein Engineering
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Sustainability

Awards, Honors and Societies

  • 2014: Biotechnology and Bioengineering Daniel I.C. Wang Award
  • 2013: Mellichamp Lecture at Purdue University
  • 2013: Department of Energy Early-Career Award
  • 2013: Benjamin Smith Reynolds Award for Excellence in Teaching
  • 2012: National Science Foundation CAREER award
  • 2011: Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Award
  • 2010: 3M Non-tenured Faculty Award
  • 2010: Polygon Engineering Council -Outstanding Instructor for the Department of CBE
  • 2006: Great Lakes Regional Center of Excellence Postdoctoral Training Fellowship

Publications

For full publication list, please see Google Scholar.

  1. Luterbacher JS, Rand JM, Alonso DM, Youngquist JT, Pfleger BF, Dumesic JA. Non-enzymatic sugar production from biomass using biomass-derived γ-valerolactone. Science. Jan 17;343(6168):277-80. (2014).
  2. Politz MP, Copeland MF, Pfleger BF. Application of TALEs, CRISPR/Cas and sRNAs as trans-acting regulators in prokaryotes. Current Opinion in Biotechnology. Mar 12;29C:46-54. (2014)
  3. Markley AL, Begemann MB, Gordon GC, Pfleger BF. A synthetic biology toolbox for controlling gene expression in the cyanobacterium Synechococcus sp. PCC 7002. ACS Synthetic Biology. (2014) [Epub ahead of print]
  4. Clark RL, Cameron JC, Root TW, Pfleger BF. Insights into the Industrial Growth of Cyanobacteria from a Model of the Carbon-Concentrating Mechanism. AICHE Journal. 60(4):1269–1277. (2014).
  5. Mendez-Perez D, Herman NA, Pfleger BF. A desaturase gene involved in formation of 1,14 nonadecadiene produced by Synechococcus sp. Strain PCC 7002. Applied and Environmental Engineering. 80 (19), 6073-6079. (2014)
  6. Youngquist JT, Schumacher MH, Rose JP, Raines TC, Politz MC, Copeland MF,  Pfleger BF. Production of medium chain length fatty alcohols from glucose in Escherichia coli. Metabolic Engineering. Nov;20:177-86. (2013).
  7. Begemann MB, Zess EK, Walters EM, Schmitt EF, Markley AL, Pfleger BF. An Organic Acid Based Counter Selection System for Cyanobacteria. PLoS One. Oct 1;8(10):e76594. (2013).
  8. Politz MC, Copeland MF, Pfleger BF. Artificial repressors for controlling gene expression in bacteria. Chemical Communications May 14;49(39):4325-7 (2013).

 

Courses

Fall 2014-2015

  • CBE 489 - Honors in Research
  • CBE 990 - Thesis-Research
  • CBE 961 - Seminar-Chemical Engineering
  • CBE 890 - Pre-Dissertator\'s Research
  • CBE 790 - Master\'s Research or Thesis
  • CBE 699 - Advanced Independent Studies
  • CBE 599 - Special Problems
  • Profile Summary

    In the 20th century, chemical engineers developed the methods and the underlying principles to convert fossil fuels into the array of chemical products that enable our current lifestyle. Unfortunately, this system is not sustainable and societal pressures to change it are increasing. The next generation of chemical engineers will develop new methods to make products from renewable resources such as biomass or harness solar energy to power the conversion of carbon dioxide to chemicals. A closed carbon cycle will require efficient chemical and/or biological routes to generate products that can be cleanly combusted to yield energy and carbon dioxide. My long term vision of the chemical industry involves the use of modern biotechnology, and specifically synthetic biology, to engineer systems where chemicals are produced sustainably from sunlight and carbon dioxide.

    Synthetic biology combines elements of engineering, mathematics, chemistry, and biology to synthesize novel systems from characterized biological components. With rapid advances in DNA sequencing and synthesis technologies, synthetic biology has evolved from classic recombinant DNA technologies wherein a small number of genes were actively manipulated, to a state where small genomes can be synthesized and transformed into protoplasts to enable self-replication. The next generation of synthetic biologists will develop the tools and understanding necessary to build microorganisms from scratch and help delineate the ethical boundaries of what systems should be engineered. Like other engineering disciplines, synthetic biologists apply fundamental principles of math and science to assemble useful devices and products. The difference in this case is the ability of biological systems to self-replicate and evolve. Therefore, synthetic biology research involves (a) identifying new biological components and quantitatively characterizing their biochemical or biological function, (b) developing tools for quick assembly of novel systems comprised of biological components, (c) engineering novel systems to solve problems and (d) optimizing the performance of biological systems in the context of an evolving organism. My group has made contributions to each of these aspects by studying the production of chemicals from renewable resources. Our work can be categorized into four areas: component discovery and characterization, tool development, metabolic engineering, and systems biology.


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