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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.

"So if you want to save the planet, feel free to drive your Hummer. Just avoid the drive thru line at McDonalds." -- Michael Asher

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