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Biotech Science

Bacteria To Protect Against Quakes 81

Roland Piquepaille writes "If you live near the sea, chances are high that your home is built over sandy soil. And if an earthquake strikes, deep and sandy soils can turn to liquid with disastrous consequences for the buildings built above them. Now, US researchers have found a way to use bacteria to steady buildings against earthquakes by turning these sandy soils into rocks. 'Starting from a sand pile, you turn it back into sandstone,' the chief researcher explained. It is already possible to inject chemicals into the ground to reinforce it, but this technique can have toxic effects on soil and water. In contrast, the use of common bacteria to 'cement' sands has no harmful effects on the environment. So far this method is limited to labs and the researchers are working on scaling their technique. Here are more references and a picture showing how unstable ground can aggravate the consequences of an earthquake."
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Bacteria To Protect Against Quakes

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  • I wonder if my homeowner's insurance will cover this...
  • by LM741N ( 258038 ) on Monday February 26, 2007 @09:34AM (#18151984)
    "researchers are working on scaling their technique"

    I hope their technique doesn't scale too far. Its hard to make sand castles out of sandstone without power tools.
  • No harmful effects (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Silver Sloth ( 770927 ) on Monday February 26, 2007 @09:36AM (#18152002)

    In contrast, the use of common bacteria to 'cement' sands has no harmful effects on the environment.
    Didn't they say the same about Cane Toads [wikipedia.org]?
    • by beavis88 ( 25983 ) on Monday February 26, 2007 @09:42AM (#18152050)
      And kudzu!
    • by Alicat1194 ( 970019 ) on Monday February 26, 2007 @09:43AM (#18152062)
      You'd think at the very least it would change the water drainage patterns in the area (and thus the water table, local waterways etc, etc)
    • by picob ( 1025968 )
      It is a common error to think that something that's biological can't be toxic. That is not the truth per se. In this case however, I am tempted to believe that the use of bacteria isn't harmful. While making cement, the bacteria entrap themselves in calcium. This ensures that the bacteria only reside in one location.
      • by AlexanderDitto ( 972695 ) on Monday February 26, 2007 @10:05AM (#18152268)
        Won't somebody please think of the worms?!

        Oh humans! Messing with things we don't know aren't harmful. Things like this are nearly always used before they've had a chance to be researched thoroughly, leading to something going horribly, horribly wrong, like giant mutating monsters or zombies or alien attacks.

        Maybe I've just been watching too many horror flicks.... Either way, I should hope these people would proceed with extreme caution. I don't like the thought of the soil turning into one big slab of sheet rock. Where would my food come from?
      • You will inevitably get a solid lump with active bacteria at the sandstone/sand boundary. Whilst the bacteria at the centre are effectively trapped those at the boundary are capable of movement. Whole sandbeds could be solidified. As one poster commented this, at the very minimum, will affect the flow of water. Sand is very porous, sandstone only mildly so.

        The enormous difference between using bacteria and some non-organic agent, is that bacteria produce more bacteria and there is no saying whether you m
    • What's so wrong with toads? They're harmless! Let me quote Harvey Denton:

      You may give a toad a wart, but a toad may not give a wart to you.
      -Harvey Denton, League of Gentlemen
      http://www.lofg.com/character_profile.php?profile_ id=37 [lofg.com]
      • yes, but cane toads do tend to eat or poison all native wildlife and they may not give you a wart, but they might give you an unpleasant toxic rash.
    • Can you say, "Ice Nine?"
    • Don't worry; we'll send the waves of needle snakes and gorillas to clean that up.
    • Didn't they say the same about Cane Toads?

      Mah. It's bacteria. If it gets too widespread, we'll just spray it with Lysol.

      - RG>
    • by cbacba ( 944071 )
      The wonderful thing about nasty polluting chemicals is they don't reproduce.

      The terrifying thing about bacteria is that they not only reproduce, they mutate and adapt while preproducing.

      History has quite a few examples of man's attempt to manipulate his environment by using 'organic' or 'natural' means, like introducing new species into an environment with no existing predators.

      All actions have consequences, some acceptable, some not. Some are known beforehand, others found out after it's too late.

      What if
  • Now if only they'd had this in 1692 [wikipedia.org]. Pirates of the Caribbean would still have a home base.

    I was going to imagine a Beowulf cluster of these, but I lost my microscope
  • Research needed! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by FredDC ( 1048502 ) on Monday February 26, 2007 @09:47AM (#18152118)
    It seems to me that alot of research is needed to investigate possible side effects of such a process. Changing the soil composition is going to have far greater consequences than just protecting against earth quakes! Especially when used over large areas.

    Also I wonder how one would contain these bacteria, and stop them from spreading? I don't think we would want our beaches turned to stone...

    I am generally very reserved when it comes to releasing living organism where they don't belong and/or trying to alter the environment. There are just too many factors involved, and there is no way we can cover them all!
    • by picob ( 1025968 )

      I am generally very reserved when it comes to releasing living organism where they don't belong and/or trying to alter the environment. There are just too many factors involved, and there is no way we can cover them all!

      Why is it that we allow nature to run freely, in an uncontrolled manner, and think that's safe, but when things are done controlled, people get scared? Is this motivated by religion? Yes, there should be investigations on whether it is harmful, but don't be scared without reason.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Why is it that we allow nature to run freely, in an uncontrolled manner, and think that's safe, but when things are done controlled, people get scared?

        Primarily because humans have proven themselves to be remarkably adept at fucking things up, even when we have the best of intentions.

        Nature "running freely" represents an equilibrium reached through 4+ billions years of physical and biological evolution here on planet earth. Now along come the humans, and before we even understand a fraction of a percent of

      • by FredDC ( 1048502 )
        but don't be scared without reason

        Isn't the fact that so many environmental actions undertaken by humans have turned out to make things worse reason enough to be scared? We barely understand natural processes, or how they affect eachother. It seems to me that interfering with them is not a good idea unless it is absolutely necessary. Turning sand into stone to protect houses against earthquakes is just crazy... There is no emergency!

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Applekid ( 993327 )
          There's lots of manipulation of nature by the human animal that hasn't spelt doom and gloom. The history of the species is pretty much a showcase of manipulating nature as we evolved away from nomadic lives. Agriculture, housing, infrastructure: all of it is about pushing selected external organisms away while favoring others. Sometimes it's the elimination of all other life like in building a mall or a power plant, sometimes it's the selected cultivation of certain organisms like wheat and beer yeast.

          The f
        • by khallow ( 566160 )

          I think it's a reasonable problem to try to solve. A lot of valuable buildings were built on sand. Moving the building is costly, and it doesn't make that much sense to do so for a sporadic event. My take is that something like this might be a decent way to stabalize such a building depending on how much effort it takes to feed and take care of such bacteria, It make turn out to be very unfeasible simply because you're attempting to keep fussy bacteria alive relatively deep in the earth while maintaining th


          Someone please tell this to the New Orleans peoples to save them from yet another disaster, it WILL happen...what idiot decided to build a city under the sea level near the bloody sea at a stormy region?!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)


      FTA: In contrast, the use of common bacteria to 'cement' sands has no harmful effects on the environment.

      That should read "...has no *known* harmful effects..." Introducing species has a long history of unintended consequences. For example:

      • Introduction of mongooses to various islands, resulting in the decimation of native bird populations
      • Introduction of the Nile Perch into Lake Victoria, resulting in the extinction of certain species of chichlids
      • Introduction of Afric
      • by Dunbal ( 464142 )
        Introduction of African (killer bees) honey bees to N. America

              You mean Brasil. The africanized bees have migrated to N. America all on their own, but they were originally introduced in Brasil in the 50's...
      • Introduction of mongooses to various islands, resulting in the decimation of native bird populations

        IIRC, the mongooses killed a lot more than one bird out of ten.
    • When making such radical changes to the soil, the first thing to look at is how water is being handled. Sandy soil lets water through, and in fact filters it quite nicely. Rock will keep the water on top, causing all sorts of interesting issues. Like cars and furniture floating thhrough the streets...
      • There's also the long term effect on the usability of the ground. It doesn't seem that the new sandstone-capped ground would be worth much or very usable after the building upon it is torn down. Unless a structure is going to be there forever, this ground treatment doesn't sound like a very good idea.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Hello, I wrote the original story about this on our blog, eggheadblog.ucdavis.edu -- the key point here is nutrients. The bacteria occur naturally in these soils, but without additional nutrients and oxygen, the bacteria don't grow enough to produce the calcite and stick everything together. So it can't run away and turn the world's beaches into concrete.
  • Jeez (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dr_d_19 ( 206418 ) on Monday February 26, 2007 @09:49AM (#18152132)
    I know people think Quakers [wikipedia.org] are wierd, isn't biological warfare a bit too much?

    • I didn't know people thought that. But it was the Washington Post, some years ago, that published a cartoon strip suggesting that the Quakers had developed a 40-megaton nuclear plowshare. After that, using CBW to save foolish men who build their houses on the sand should be a no-brainer.
      • Err... maybe you're thinking of Amish, not Quakers.
        • Since I _am_ a Quaker, though not a very good one, and since I have the cartoon somewhere in my files if I could be bothered to look it out, and since the Amish are opposed to irrelevant technology, and since there is an anti-nuclear and WMD campaign called Ploughshare Fund, and since the Amish are a German speaking sect and ploughshare/plowshare is an English word, and since the Quakers in the UK are involved in an anti-submarine campaign called Trident Ploughshares, and for a number of other reasons too l
  • by idontgno ( 624372 ) on Monday February 26, 2007 @10:08AM (#18152290) Journal
    some microbial life form to prevent Diakatanas [wikipedia.org] instead.
  • Are these bacteria found on sheeps' bladders, by any chance?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 26, 2007 @10:27AM (#18152478)

    US researchers have found a way to use bacteria to steady buildings against earthquakes [...] So far this method is limited to labs
    I work in a lab, so at least I'll be safe at work.
  • by symes ( 835608 )
    surely the best way forward is to not build houses on sand in the first place?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 )
      I'd call you daft if you built a castle in a swamp, but you're right that there is a grain of truth in not building your house on sand. It's so dumb to build your house on sand that Jesus even spoke a parable about it for people who listen to his words, but don't actually put them into action.
    • by FredDC ( 1048502 )
      That would be logical, but since when are humans logical creatures?
    • by Tophe ( 853490 )
      Or at the least, don't build on sand in earthquake prone areas.
    • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Monday February 26, 2007 @11:46AM (#18153410) Homepage Journal
      surely the best way forward is to not build houses on sand in the first place?

      Sorry, you must be new here. The way we do it is to encourage the wealthy to build mansions in unreasonable places and then bail them out from disasters with the public treasury, funded by broad-based regressive taxes.
  • What if the bacteria gets out of control. Then we have to generate a bunch of viruses or organism that eat bacteria in order to control their population. Then have things that eat those things. Then, a few levels up, bring in snakes for some reason. Then mongooses... monkeys... robots. It's a slippery slope my friends.
    • At least it will artificially accelerate robot production.. i will be the architect of the matrix, good bye humans!
      You have only yourselves to blame!
  • If we can turn sand/soil into solid ground, we're one step further to dealing with the melting polar ice caps. I forsee a globe of man-built rock land! And if we need some more, we'll just dig it up out of the ever expanding oceans and BOOM! ...instant land. It's all pretty simple really.
  • Wouldn't it be much simpler to just use a small bit of Ice-9?
  • by DrewMIT ( 98823 ) on Monday February 26, 2007 @11:03AM (#18152882)
    Here in Boston, about most of the city's residents and commercial property is sitting on land fill. (At its time, the filling of Boston's Back Bay was the nation's largest public works project ever. The Big Dig is us reclaiming that dubious title) Buildings sit on wooden pilings that are buried in the landfill below the water table. As long as those pilings stay wet, the buildings and streets on top of them are supported. But if and when the water recedes, those pilings start to rot, and bad things can (and likely, will) happen. A century's worth of construction has started to upset groundwater levels. Since most of the landfill material used was sand, I wonder if this discovery could be used to solve the problem here in Boston (and any other cities with similar problems).
    • This is different (Score:3, Informative)

      by Reverberant ( 303566 )

      The bacteria process basically improves the shear response of the soil when it's under motion to prevent/reduce liquefaction. The problem in Boston is that buildings in Back Bay and along the Harbor are basically setting on water. Short of soil mixing under each of the foundation, there's not much that you can do to solve the problem you describe.

    • Wooden piles have worked in Venice for quite some time - I beleive some of them are heading for a thousand years. (And no, the building in Venice aren't sinking - they were, but they've stopped taking water from the aquifer [why does everyone say "underground" aquifer - where the heck else would it be?] and they've stopped sinking. The lagoon's still rising though, and global warming is yet to show much effect).

    • Bad things already have begun to happen in the Back Bay. Granite blocks that form the foundations of some brownstones are shifting on those rotting pilings, and a lot of building owners (divided among condos, for the most part) are suddenly realizing that they need to cough up $100,000+ to dig under and replace the building's pilings.

      It's an interesting problem for Boston, because they don't want to spend the money to fix things (they're more at the "let's dig more monitoring wells" stage), but those buildi
  • sand-nine.

  • This new learning fascinates me, Bedeveire - tell me again how sheep's bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes.
  • I wish Westwood studios implemented this idea in Dune II ...
  • Help for Venice? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by boo pixie ( 452315 )
    I wonder is this can provide help for sinking cities like Venice. I don't think the Venitian Lagoon is that sandy, but at some depth there might be enough to work with. As long as it doesnt just turn everything into a bigger rock that will sink faster.
  • Alt. Construction..? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by skelly33 ( 891182 ) on Monday February 26, 2007 @09:14PM (#18161606)
    Could something like this be used as a low-cost concrete alternative structural building material in 3rd world locations where chemical concrete mixes might not be affordable...?
  • Well, now that they got the sand problem almost fixed...what about the tsunamis?
  • If you live near the sea,
    ... And if an earthquake strikes,

    ... then you didn't pay one nanosecond of attention to your friendly neighbourhood geologist when you were choosing to buy the property and frankly, you deserve what you get for building on unconsolidated soils in an earthquake zone.
    If you've inherited such a property, or have only recently started to think about defensive housing (in the same sense as "defensive driving"), then you need to keep your mouth very firmly shut until you've got the buye

Whenever people agree with me, I always think I must be wrong. - Oscar Wilde