Brian F. 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, Microbiology Doctoral Training Program, Cellular and Molecular Biology Program, Chemistry-Biology Interface Training Program, Biotechnology Training Program, Genome Sciences 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. Youngquist JT, Schumacher MH, Rose JP, Raines TC, Pfleger BF. Production of medium chain length fatty alcohols from glucose in Escherichia coli. Metabolic Engineering (2013) 
  2. Begemann MB, Zess EK, Walters EM, Schmitt EF, Markley AL, Pfleger BF. An Organic Acid Based Counter Selection System for Cyanobacteria. PLoS One. 2013 Oct 1;8(10):e76594.
  3. Politz MC, Copeland MF, Pfleger BF. Artificial repressors for controlling gene expression in bacteria. ChemComm May 14;49(39):4325-7 (2013).
  4. Agnew DA, Stevermer AK, Youngquist JT, Pfleger BF. Engineering Escherichia coli for production of C12-C14 polyhydroxyalkanoate from glucose. Metabolic Engineering 14(6):705-713 (2012).
  5. Youngquist JT, Lennen RM, Ranatunga DR, Bothfeld WH, Marner II WD, Pfleger BF. Kinetic modeling of free fatty acid production in Escherichia coli based on continuous cultivation of a plasmid free strain. Biotechnology & Bioengineering. Jun;109(6):1518-27 (2012).
  6. Mendez-Perez D, Begemann MB, Pfleger BF. A gene encoding a modular synthase is involved in α-olefin biosynthesis in Synechococcus sp. PCC7002. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Jun;77(12):4264-7 (2011).
  7. Lennen RM, Kruziki MA, Kumar K, Zinkel RA, Burnum KE, Lipton MS, Hoover SW, Ranatunga DR, Wittkopp TM, Marner II WD, Pfleger BF. Membrane stresses induced by endogenous free fatty acid overproduction in Escherichia coliApplied and Environmental Microbiology. Nov;77(22):8114-28 (2011).
  8. Lennen RM, Braden DJ, West RA, Dumesic JA, Pfleger BF. A process for microbial hydrocarbon synthesis: Overproduction of fatty acids in Escherichia coli and catalytic conversion to alkanes. Biotechnology & Bioengineering. 106:2, 193-202 (2010).

Courses

Summer 2014

  • CBE 890 - Pre-Dissertator\'s Research
  • CBE 790 - Master\'s Research or Thesis
  • CBE 599 - Special Problems
  • CBE 489 - Honors in Research
  • BME 399 - Independent Study
  • BME 560 - Biochemical Engineering
  • CBE 990 - Thesis-Research
  • CBE 890 - Pre-Dissertator\'s Research
  • CBE 790 - Master\'s Research or Thesis
  • CBE 699 - Advanced Independent Studies
  • CBE 599 - Special Problems
  • CBE 560 - Biochemical Engineering
  • CBE 489 - Honors in Research
  • CBE 990 - Thesis-Research
  • CBE 890 - Pre-Dissertator\'s Research
  • CBE 790 - Master\'s Research or Thesis
  • 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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