many long, hard days of work, researchers at University of Newcastle
feel they are nearly ready to put their special bacteria
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
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 fromBacillus
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.
"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.