There is a new crowd funding site has just started that specializes in funding research. Called Microryza, the organization aims to focus on funding risky research projects or educational outreach efforts. Yours truly submitted one of the first projects (no affiliation to the company) to build an interactive and modular electronic system to explore gene regulatory networks. Check it out and if you’re interested you can contribute as little as $1.
The picture below shows a hybrid analog/digital computer constructed by Darren Roblyer in my lab that we built a few years ago. It simulates the action of the MAPK cascade with feedback.The components circled in red are the relays that can be used to switch on and off the negative feedback and the analog circuit to implement feedback is just to the right of the relays. The components in yellow are digitally controlled resistors that can be used to control some of the binding constants in the signaling pathway (particularly the feedback strength). The board in green is one of four boards, where each board represents a Michaelis-Menten enzyme modeled as an analog system, two kinases and two phosphatases. Finally the blue box with the pink outline is the analog/digital interface to a desktop computer.
Now we want to build analog gene circuits but this time we want to use a modular design where each module represents a single gene. We will provide external connectors that will allow modules to be hooked up in different ways and thus allow someone to build a entire network of genes. Each module will have a bar graph output to indicate the level of protein the gene is making together with control knobs to change the binding constant of the controlling transcription factor and the degradation rate of the protein. Once finished we will provide professionally made circuit boards plus a component list so that anyone can build one themselves.