Engineered bacteria fill cracks in broken concrete

Researchers have developed bacteria nicknamed "BacillaFilla" that can fill cracks in concrete structures.

Researchers have developed bacteria that produce a kind of glue that can "knit together" cracks in concrete structures.

Nine students at Newcastle University in the U.K. engineered a microbe to swim down fine cracks in concrete. Once many microbes reach the bottom -- clumping together -- they differentiate: some produce a mixture of calcium carbonate, some produce a bacterial "glue" and some become filamentous in nature (like fibers).

Combine the three, and you can bind a sidewalk or building back together.

The spores only start germinating when they make contact with concrete, and are triggered by the specific pH of the material. They also have an in-built self-destruct gene so they don't linger after their job's been done.

Nicknamed the "BacillaFilla" -- oh, those scientists and their humor -- the bacterial glue ultimately hardens to the same strength as the surrounding concrete. It could do wonders for aging concrete structures around the world that are too costly to repair with conventional means.

It could also help fortify disaster-prone areas, such as an earthquake zone, to repair cracks that could topple a less-than-structurally-sound building.

The researchers also say the bacterial glue is sustainable and environmentally-friendly, too, since about five percent of all man-made carbon emissions are the result of the production of concrete.

The glue was the product of a major international science competition in the U.S., the International Genetically Engineered Machines contest at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Photo: Sherri Thai/Flickr

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