As a new faculty member in the chemical biology and organic chemistry paths in the chemistry department, Andrew Buller plans to begin a research program that draws upon his expertise in protein engineering, biocatalysis, enzymology and chemical biology.
Buller most recently worked as a National Institutes of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Postdoctoral Fellow in the Francis Arnold research group at California Institute of Technology. While at Caltech, he dedicated himself to a project combining protein engineering and biocatalysis.
Previously, Buller earned a doctorate in molecular biophysics from Johns Hopkins University, working on the biosynthesis of natural products. He holds bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and mathematics from the University of Iowa.
What’s the focus of your research?
Enzymes are nature’s preferred means of controlling chemical reactions. Chemists have marveled at the power of enzymes for over a hundred years and performed detailed studies to determine how they work. I believe translating this understanding into efficient strategies to engineer new biochemical reactions will emerge as a major theme in 21st-century chemistry. My group will take part in this effort by engineering new enzymes, studying how mutation enhances novel reactivity, and by putting these new proteins to use inside of living systems to expand the breadth of molecules accessible through cellular metabolism.
What most excites you about coming to UW-Madison?
The people! I knew from reading papers that the science at UW-Madison was excellent, but it was meeting the faculty, staff and students that really made me excited to start my independent career in this warm and collaborative atmosphere.
What can students expect from you in class or in the lab?
Good science requires creativity and tenacity. I suspect UW-Madison students have the tenacity part down pretty well, but it can be very hard to think creatively if you’re afraid of being wrong. I hope to foster an open and inviting environment in the classroom and in the lab where everyone is welcome to participate and we can learn from each other.
When did you know you wanted to become a scientist?
My sophomore year of college. Maybe that’s a little late for most people, but I had initially enrolled at the University of Iowa with the intention of becoming an elementary school teacher. My dad and brother, who are both chemists, encouraged me to take some core science classes, too, and once I started, it was hard to stop. Sophomore year I took organic chemistry from a marvelous lecturer. I loved learning the logic of the subject and the rest was history.
What unique strength do you hope to bring to the department?
My Ph.D. was in biophysics, and I have spent the last 3 1/2 years in a bioengineering lab, so I bring a biological and evolutionary perspective when looking at chemical problems that might be less common. In addition, as the youngest member of the department, I will bring a strong knowledge of ’90s pop hits.
Story courtesy of the Department of Chemistry.