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Living buildings in space

SCIENCE

Here’s an acronym for you: LBM. Any ideas? It stands for Living Building Materials. Still no wiser? Dubbed “Frankenstein materials”, scientists have developed structures that can sense, communicate, and react to their surroundings. The latest material to cause a stir in the ever-growing field of LBM technology is the creation of living concrete that can heal itself once damaged.


And not only heal, but regenerate: “We showed that up to three ‘child’ generations of living building materials can be grown from one ‘parent’ generation,” project leader Wil Srubar told Scientific American. “So we effectively took one parent block; split it into two, which grew into a full two blocks; split that in half, which then resulted in four and then eight. And theoretically, this process can go on in perpetuity.”

The breakthrough, developed by Srubar’s research team in Colorado, presents the intriguing possibility that different types of bacteria could potentially lead to the creation of living buildings that communicate with their environments.“When you look at this approach and this material as a platform technology,” said Srubar, “you can start to envision multiple bacteria with different functionalities that could be used in the production [of building materials]: bacteria that could self-heal the material or that could sense and respond to airborne toxins to change colour — and perhaps fluoresce under certain types of light.”


It’s hoped the concrete — a mixture of gelatin, sand, and cyanobacteria (water-borne microbes able to produce their own food) — will be used to assemble structures in space. “In austere environments, these materials would perform especially well because they use light from the sun to grow and proliferate with very little exogenous material needed for their growth,” Srubar told the Daily Mail. “It's going to happen one way or another, and we're not going to be trucking bags of cement all the way to Mars. I really do think we'll be bringing biology with us once we go.”

ABOVE Wil Srubar demonstrating LBM in block form to a team researcher​

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