Samuel W. Schaffter, Kuan-Lin Chen, Jackson O’Brien, Madeline Noble, Arvind Murugan & Rebecca Schulman
Nature Chemistry 14, 1224–1232 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41557-022-01001-3
Engineered far-from-equilibrium synthetic chemical networks that pulse or switch states in response to environmental signals could precisely regulate the kinetics of chemical synthesis or self-assembly. Currently, such networks must be extensively tuned to compensate for the different activities of and unintended reactions between a network’s various chemical components. Modular elements with standardized performance could be used to rapidly construct networks with designed functions. Here we develop standardized excitable chemical regulatory elements, termed genelets, and use them to construct complex in vitro transcriptional networks. We develop a protocol for identifying >15 interchangeable genelet elements with uniform performance and minimal crosstalk. These elements can be combined to engineer feedforward and feedback modules whose dynamics match those predicted by a simple kinetic model. Modules can then be rationally integrated and organized into networks that produce tunable temporal pulses and act as multistate switchable memories. Standardized genelet elements, and the workflow to identify more, should make engineering complex far-from-equilibrium chemical dynamics routine.