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  (Source: Handyguys Podcast)

UK microbiologist Jennifer Hallinan wants to put her super hard rod (Bacillus) bacteria into concrete's tight cracks.  (Source: Flickr)
New technology could repair earthquake, aging, and road-wear damage

After many long, hard days of work, researchers at University of Newcastle feel they are nearly ready to put their special bacteria into concrete's dirty cracks.

If you look at the average city street it is chock full of gaping potholes and many a crack.  The researchers are taking advantage of bacterial life's wonderful diversity and its ability to rapidly evolve to plug up these dirty holes, preventing them from damaging vehicles.

The thrust of the research is to optimize the tiny microbes -- "BacillaFilla" -- to produce a super-hard rod-shaped bacterial skeleton reinforced by calcium carbonate and a special bacterial "glue".  What might surprise some is that the bacteria has very pedestrian origins, being derived from
Bacillus subtilis, a common soil bacteria.

When the genetically modified critters come into contact with some hole or crack in a specific pH of concrete, they germinate, plunge as deep into it as they can (via so-called "quorum sensing"), and start procreating.  At a certain point, though, the colony is genetically programmed to self-destruct to avoid a sloppy mess of artificial concrete.

The resulting plug is reportedly as strong as standard concrete.

Jennifer Hallinan, a research fellow in complex systems at the University of Newcastle in the United Kingdom says the material could be valuable, not only to roads, but also to buildings, particularly those affected by aging or earthquakes.  She states, "Finding a way of prolonging the lifespan of existing structures means we could reduce this environmental impact and work towards a more sustainable solution.  This could be particularly useful in earthquake zones where hundreds of buildings have to be flattened because there is currently no easy way of repairing the cracks and making them structurally sound."

Ms. Hallinan is a pretty prolific scientific author, and one of her reports on the microbes published at a biology conference is available here [PDF].  While publication is one goal of her team, ultimately their invention could be incredible financially lucrative as well.

So next time you see a dirty crack, don't despair.  The University of Newcastle is hard at work designing a solution to plug it up.

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Don't encourage them
By trisct on 11/18/2010 11:10:58 AM , Rating: 4
Daily Tech is one of the few sites that has even tried to resist making science into a joke. This article is serious science, and would be an important contribution to society, if it works. Its too bad we are all encouraged to snicker.

Let people read the Register if they want Benny Hill reporting their tech news. lets keep Daily Tech about the tech.

Resist taking the low road, Jason...

RE: Don't encourage them
By marvdmartian on 11/18/2010 3:30:16 PM , Rating: 2
Somewhere, Beavis and Butthead are snickering over this article....

RE: Don't encourage them
By Reclaimer77 on 11/18/2010 5:19:49 PM , Rating: 2
This article is serious science

Not really. Probably the thousandth article proclaiming some revolutionary research idea that will never see the light of day in practical application.

You can't "heal" structures affected by earthquake level stresses with bacteria. Simply gluing together a foundation that has been permanently weakened isn't going to happen.

RE: Don't encourage them
By drycrust3 on 11/19/2010 1:09:50 AM , Rating: 2
No, but since calcium carbonate is a prime ingredient in teeth then just because this doesn't work on an apartment building or a bridge, doesn't mean it is useless. It could be used to "reconstruct" teeth that have holes or are chipped.

RE: Don't encourage them
By mooty on 11/19/2010 8:51:21 AM , Rating: 3
The main ingredient of tooth is a special calcium phosphate crystal, not carbonate.

RE: Don't encourage them
By Reclaimer77 on 11/18/10, Rating: 0
RE: Don't encourage them
By KnickKnack on 11/18/2010 6:41:45 PM , Rating: 2
I bet those researchers feel pretty stupid; If only they'd asked Reclaimer77 if it was possible to heal structures with bacteria, they would have saved countless hours and money researching something that isn't feasible!!

RE: Don't encourage them
By priusone on 11/18/2010 11:31:42 PM , Rating: 2
Oh, come on. That research grant money had to go somewhere. Then again, I have yet to see a research paper on the mating rituals of toothless hookers who ended up on the street due to lack of welfare funds and as a result are now addicted to skittles.

By 306maxi on 11/18/2010 10:44:10 AM , Rating: 1
UK microbiologist Jennifer Hallinan wants to put her super hard rod (Bacillus) bacteria into concrete's tight cracks.

Is this a joke?!?!?!?!?!?! Tbh she's not good looking enough for me to want to put my rod in her dirty crack.....

RE: Huh?
By IamKindaHungry on 11/18/2010 12:00:43 PM , Rating: 2
She has nice legs...

Of course there is an intended pun... but to come out and say what you "wont" do..

I think we all realize that your response is the real joke here..

RE: Huh?
By MrBlastman on 11/18/2010 12:39:18 PM , Rating: 2
Stiff crowd we have here today. All he was trying to crack a joke and instead, you accuse him of trying ramrod his agenda down our (deep) throats.


She could be into strap-ons for all we know...

RE: Huh?
By Anoxanmore on 11/18/2010 1:04:18 PM , Rating: 3
by MrBlastman on November 18, 2010 at 12:39 PM

She could be into strap-ons for all we know...

Oh I hope so ;) Purrrr

RE: Huh?
By Samus on 11/18/2010 7:04:14 PM , Rating: 2
English girls love it in the butt. Thom Yorke said so...would he lie?

By captainobvious on 11/18/2010 10:38:25 AM , Rating: 4
Don't these researchers know anything?

Obviously you have to first flush out the dirty crack before you put your rod in there. I've been investigating this supplementary method with my female researcher friend for some time now and I believe we may beat the University of Newcastle's results.

RE: Inexperienced
By AnnihilatorX on 11/24/2010 4:14:03 AM , Rating: 2
How do you flush out the dirt? Is your rod as hard as calcium carbonate?

worth exploring, but
By chromal on 11/18/2010 11:39:58 AM , Rating: 2
It's definitely an intriguing idea, if it's scalable and safe. Spray or inject into damaged concrete a liquid slush of bacteria colony. Just make sure it won't mutate and go out of control into 'car barnacles' or even go on to 'pave' beyond cement. How long is the present life span, from start to colony self-termination, e.g.: how long's it take to do its intended job?

RE: worth exploring, but
By MozeeToby on 11/18/2010 12:59:06 PM , Rating: 2
Any time you modify a bacteria to do a job you want, you increase it's energy usage accordingly. It takes energy to produce the magic glue that the bacteria would normally use for other things. In other words, if it starts to grow out of control all you need to do is spread some of the non-modified bacteria around and let it out-compete the modified stuff. The only exception would be the extremely unlikely scenario that our modifications manage to produce a survival trait that billions of years of evolution hasn't stumbled on (and even then, a little bleach will take care of the problem quite easily).

Looking forward to this...
By putergeek00 on 11/18/2010 12:50:58 PM , Rating: 2
This would be awesome! Maybe I could use this to fix my basement walls from leaking from the outside instead of trying to put on a sealer that doesn't work anyways.

RE: Looking forward to this...
By goku on 12/3/2010 4:56:05 AM , Rating: 2
If you're having water infiltrate your foundation from the outside, you either need to address the water issue you have or you need to dig up around the foundation from outside and add a vapor barrier.

One question...
By docawolff on 11/18/2010 5:00:12 PM , Rating: 2
Ummm... Where does the calcium come from? I mean, if you have all these bacteria building these ceramic structures using calcium, where are they getting the calcium from? If they are simply taking it from the nearest available source (the adjacent intact concrete), wouldn't that be a problem?

RE: One question...
By tygrus on 11/20/2010 5:46:03 AM , Rating: 2
I would assume the bacteria are inserted with a carrier solution of the calcium, water and other substances required to assist.

self healing armor
By medys on 11/18/2010 10:33:47 AM , Rating: 2
I guess we're on the righ path :) next thing you know our tanks will have self healing ceramic armor...

BAD idea
By marraco on 11/26/2010 11:10:51 AM , Rating: 2
It only takes a small mutation (and that mutation is assured) to have those critters growing everywhere without control.

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