Gengineered concrete-patching bacteria: BacillaFilla

"BacillaFilla," is the pet-name given by University of Newcastle researchers to a gengineered bacterium based on Bacillus subtilis that has been modified to fill and bond cracks in cement caused by earthquakes and other violence. The bacteria burrow into the concrete until they have filled all its cracks, then they politely turn into calcium carbonite carbonate and die.
The researchers have tweaked it's genetic properties such that it only begins to germinate when it comes in contact with the highly-specific pH of concrete. Once the cells germinate, they are programmed to crawl as deep as they can into cracks in the concrete, where quorum sensing lets them know when enough bacteria have accumulated.

That accumulation lets the bacteria know they've reached the deepest part of the crack, at which point the cells begin to develop into bacterial filaments, cells that produce calcium carbonate, and cells that secrete a kind of bacterial glue that binds everything together. Once hardened, the bacteria is essentially as strong as the concrete itself, restoring structural strength and adding life to the surrounding concrete.

The bacteria also contains a self-destruct gene that keeps it from wildly proliferating away from its concrete target, because a runaway patch of bacterial concrete that continued to grow despite all efforts to stop it would be somewhat annoying

Engineered Bacteria Can Fill Cracks In Aging Concrete (via JWZ)

(Image: Cracked Concrete Texture #1, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from designmag's photostream)



  1. “then they politely turn into calcium carbonite and die”

    I think that should read “carbonATE”. Someone has been watching too much Star Wars!

  2. The bacteria also contains a self-destruct gene

    Is such a thing even possible? Even if there is a self-destruct mechanism, evolution should simply select the variants that ignore/defeat it, thus leading to the proliferation of bacteria that are resistant to programmed death.

    1. Simply put, they require a chemical that is added to the petri dish to continue living. In the absence of that chemical, they die. In the presence of that chemical, there is no evolutionary motivation for the organism not to use it.

      1. Evolution doesn’t work through motivation, though, it works through random changes. If one mutates not to use the required chemical, and the others who do don’t outcompete it, it’ll survive when the chemical runs out. If none mutates that way, no amount of evolutionary pressure would help.

  3. So let me get this right, this bacteria fills GREY concrete with some sort of GOO which…. OH JESUS CHRIST RUN!

    1. Yeah, EVEN our cells have a regulatory gene for self-destruction. After 100 mitotic divisions the cell dies (one reason is to stop the likelihood of random mutations, the process is called ‘Apoptosis’. If we didn’t have this regulatory function we wouldn’t have separate digits such as fingers and toes, and we would be massive blobs. Cancerous cells don’t have this function so they just keep dividing to make tumours. So even though it sounds scary, this process is actually very useful.

  4. I swear typed “bacteria.” Anyway, can evolution allow organisms control over their own telomeres? Maybe this comment thread will allow more information than the genome of Amoeba dubia… more than 231 times the number of base pairs of the human genome. :)

  5. Two things:

    First, as usual, this story has been hopelessly misreported. The project is still in its very early stages, and ‘Bacillafilla’ doesn’t exist yet. Right now, it’s just a twinkle in the eyes of a group of Newcastle scientists. To date, only ‘[o]ne part, IPTG-induced filamentous cell formation, the BioBrick for the IPTG-induced filamentous cell formation, was demonstrated to work as expected.’ Which is pretty cool — but they still have a helluva way to go. See

    Second, fwiw I had the same idea 8 years ago, but instead of bacillus subtilis, it was based on a genetically modified coralline alga.

  6. “Essentially” spotted in para2 sentence2. Can someone gengineer a bacillus to purge this scourge of a word from common usage?

    I’m also wondering what happens when horizontal gene exchange between these critters and bacteria in the soil produces a mutation that turns soil into concrete.

  7. Imitating nature. I’d think this was weird, but on the beaches of Southwest Michigan, around Saugatuck and Pier Cove near Fennville, there’s a lot of septarian, sometimes known as lightning stones and other names, in which the cracks are “glued” together with bacteria. IANAGeologist, but it took us awhile of searching the web to find the scientific name to finally place it so it stuck.

    The majority of pictures of septarian on the web are much more beautiful and notable than the ones you’ll find in Michigan, but this picture is typical of them:

  8. and we all hoped it would be the nanobots…guess accidentally paving the planet is really more our style…

  9. I want to see a version of this that works with asphalt. Then we can have grey goo and pave the world at the same time.

  10. Uh, where is the calcium coming from? Carbonate can come from the air, but the calcium has to come from adjacent concrete. So the crack will be fixed, but the concrete will be weak.

  11. I wonder which other substances have the “highly-specific pH of concrete”. This has the potential for amusing petrification.

  12. I’m a bit worried that the last sentence is cut off. Did the bacteria escape containment and encase the writer before he could finish typing the period?

  13. Rats – Someone already beat me to the Battlestar Galactica reference.

    But really – I need to know when they will develop a version to fill the holes in my teeth, the cracks in my mind, the black hole in my heart and the bend in my pipi. Sniff…Sniff?

  14. “a runaway patch of bacterial concrete that continued to grow despite all efforts to stop it would be somewhat annoying”

    So, kind of like ice-nine? Vonnegut warned us about this years ago.

  15. “at which point the cells begin to develop into bacterial filaments, cells that produce calcium carbonate, and cells that secrete a kind of bacterial glue”

    This is a bit confusing. Seems to imply that bacteria are multi-celled organisms – they’re not, they are single celled. So what does this statement mean?

    1. You are SO right!!! I laughed so hard. I never even noticed until you said something. These guys are real sharp! Ha Ha

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