Howard Salis

Howard Salis

Associate Professor
Pennsylvania State University

Howard Salis is an Associate Professor of Biological and Chemical Engineering and Synthetic Biology. He earned his PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Minnesota and his Bachelor's in chemical engineering from Rutgers University.


Research in the Salis laboratory focuses on the development of rational design methods for engineering synthetic biological systems - metabolic pathways, genetic circuits, and genomes. Our goal is to make engineering biology as reliable as building planes, trains, and automobiles. We develop biophysical models of genetic regulation and experimentally test their predictions in industrially and medically useful microorganisms to gain a quantitative understanding of genetic function.

We combine these models with optimization algorithms to automatically design synthetic DNA sequences with desired biological functions — we call them DNA compilers. We have used our methodology to program synthetic microorganisms to sense chemicals, such as environmental toxins or explosives, and to manufacture valuable chemicals for bioenergy applications. Our approach to engineering genetic systems has eliminated trial-and-error, while helping to decipher the physical rules that govern biological function.

Our models and algorithms have become widely used by over 6000 academic and industrial biotechnology researchers, who have designed over 100,000 synthetic DNA sequences using our user-friendly web interface.

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