Brian Bachmann '88

Brian is a chemical biologist at the Vanderbilt Laboratory for Biosynthetic Studies. In the eternally dark, cool and quiet environs of some the country’s 8,000 caves, Brian takes samples with the hope of finding sources of new medicines. With a staggering 90,000 deaths each year from antibiotic-resistant infections, Brian and other researchers have been looking for new ways to fight infection. Antibiotic resistance is a natural part of the Earth’s ecosystem. “Nature,” Brian explains, “is by any measure the most venerable and the most prolific synthetic chemist.” His research program is “concerned with problems in secondary metabolism, both natural and manmade. If primary metabolites are the structure and energy for the creation and maintenance of all cells, secondary metabolites (such as penicillin and steroids) give those cells something extra in terms of protection, weaponry and communication.” In his four years of collecting samples from the largely untouched cave world, Brian has collected 30 compounds, half of which are new to man.

A scientist by trade and a philosopher by nature, the questions that fuel Brian’s work have far-reaching implications for mankind; the answers emerge through truly appreciating and working to understand the natural processes. One question that has fueled Brian’s work: Can affordable treatments be developed to fight HIV/AIDS? To answer the HIV question, Brian is working to genetically engineer E. coli bacteria for a cost-effective, easily-manufactured product that would offset the financially toxic cost of AIDS drugs, especially in underdeveloped parts of the world where AIDS numbers continue to rise.

Brian was featured in the 2013 Blue & White and was the commencement speaker for his niece Bryn’s graduating class in 2014.