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Professor Brian Pfleger

Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Date: April 24, 2014

Time: 4:00 p.m. Thurs

Location: 1519 Engr II

Finding a sustainable alternative for today's petrochemical industry is a major challenge facing chemical engineers and society at large. To be sustainable, routes for converting carbon dioxide and light into organic compounds for use as both fuels and chemical building blocks must be identified, understood, and engineered. Advances in synthetic biology and other biological engineering disciplines have expanded the scope of what can be produced in a living organism. As in other engineering disciplines, synthetic biologists want to apply a general understanding of science (e.g. biology and biochemistry) to construct complex systems from well-characterized parts (e.g. DNA and protein). Once novel synthetic biological systems (e.g. enzymes for biofuel synthesis) are constructed, they must be engineered to function inside evolving cells without negatively impacting the host's physiology. In most cases first generation systems fail to meet this goal. My group uses systems biology tools to identify metabolic, regulatory, and/or physiological barriers which often can be overcome with metabolic engineering strategies. One of the largest barriers to producing chemicals from biomass is the deconstruction step where sugar polymers are broken down into functional intermediates that can be consumed by engineered microbes. In this talk, I will present a novel, sustainable method of deconstructing biomass into fermentable sugars that does not require degradative enzymes. I will then describe work to develop strains of bacteria for producing chemical building blocks such as fatty acids, alpha-olefins, fatty alcohols, and bioplastics. Our work has combined functional genomics analysis, synthetic biology construction techniques, bioinformatics, and metabolic modeling to engineer superior microorganisms. We have tested our strains in media formulated with biomass sugars and are developing photosynthetic microorganisms to by-pass the biomass middle man and directly make products from carbon dioxide.

BIO: Brian received his bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University in 2000 and earned his PhD in Chemical Engineering in 2005 from the University of California-Berkeley under the supervision of Jay Keasling. Brian's thesis research focused on developing methods of controlling gene expression in bacteria that could be applied to enhancing the biosynthesis of pharmaceuticals. After graduating, he accepted a postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of David Sherman at the University of Michigan, where he studied how six Bacillus anthracis enzymes assemble a natural product essential for iron acquisition and pathogenesis. Brian is currently an Associate Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering with appointments in Biomedical Engineering, the Microbiology Doctoral Training Program, and the graduate program in Cell and Molecular Biology. Brianís research has been recognized with young investigator awards from 3M, NSF (CAREER), DOE (Early Career), the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR-YIP), Biotechnology and Bioengineering (Daniel IC Wang Award), and Purdue University (Mellichamp lectureship). Brian also received the Benjamin Smith Reynolds teaching award from the UW-Madison College of Engineering for his efforts to introduce undergraduates to biotechnology.

Other Seminars
  Biological Sciences
  Chemistry & Biochemistry
  Computer Science
  Electrical & Computer Engineering
  Mechanical Engineering

Institutes and Centers
  Center for Control, Dynamical
    Systems & Computation (CDCC)

  Research in Fluid Physics (CIRF)
  Institute for Collaborative
    Biotechnologies (ICB)

  Kavli Institute for
    Theoretical Physics (KITP)

  Materials Research Laboratory (MRL)




ucsb Contact Information
Dept. of Chemical Engineering
Univ. of California, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-5080
Phone: (805) 893-3412
FAX: (805) 893-4731