Meet the new co-workers: Bacteria roll up their sleeves

They fix potholes in the street, clean germs from the body and take care of minefields. Scientists have tamed an army of bacteria and taught these highly trained tiny organisms…

They fix potholes in the street, clean germs from the body and take care of minefields. Scientists have tamed an army of bacteria and taught these highly trained tiny organisms to take on jobs that no human hand could ever do.


Bacteria balls repair damaged concrete

Roads, bridges, tunnels and dams are made of concrete that is constantly exposed to weathering, which breaks down its strength over time.

When cracks form, water and other harmful substances can penetrate deep into the concrete and destroy the building from the inside, so it is important to carry out maintenance in a timely manner.

Therefore, scientists have trained a team of tiny craftsmen to take care of the maintenance and they are always on duty.

In so-called living concrete, the building material is enriched with dormant bacteria and a natural nitrogen-rich substance called urea, which can be found, among other things, in the soil.

The bacteria come to life when a crack forms or water seeps in and they break the capsule in which they lie.

Bacteria lie dormant in tiny capsules that rupture and release the little craftsmen when a crack forms.

After this, they immediately start filling up the crack with one layer of lime after another, using the urea and calcium found in the concrete as both food and building material.

The only byproduct of this process is ammonia, which is harmless here. Once the crack is gone, the microbes go dormant again, forming spores and waiting to start again when needed.

Many different types of bacteria can carry out this task if they have the metabolism that can transform urea and they can also live for hundreds of years in the extremely alkaline environment of the concrete.

Experiments with the bacterium Bachillus subtilis have also shown that the deposits not only repair the cracks, but also increase its strength.

This is what the bakeries do

Cracks in concrete could be a thing of the past if a small capsule of bacteria is mixed into the building material.

A crack causes bacteria

Tiny capsules of dormant bacteria and calcium are everywhere in the concrete, which is additionally enriched with nitrogen-containing urea. When a crack forms and water seeps in, the capsules dissolve and the bacteria are released.

Bacteria create chemical reactions

Bacteria bind calcium on their surface and absorb urea, which their metabolism breaks down and secretes as carbon-rich carbonate. Calcium and carbonate react to form calcium carbonate – lime.

Lime fills up holes

As long as the bacteria get air and water, they multiply and form limescale. When the crack is full, the bacteria go dormant again. In this way, the life casting can save people huge amounts of money in maintenance.


Skin bacteria can treat diabetes


Bacteria deep in the skin can take over the work of the pancreas and produce vital insulin for diabetics.

Insulin pumps may be a thing of the past for people with type 1 diabetes, thanks to newly discovered staphylococci that can live longer in the skin than previously thought.


This deep skin layer contains small blood vessels, and therefore the genes of the bacteria can be changed so that they sense when the level of glucose in the blood has become too high.


The bacteria then react to the situation by producing insulin that goes directly into the bloodstream and transports the sugar to the muscles and organs that need it.


Since the bacteria naturally live deep in the skin, they will not cause any infections to the patient. Unlike an insulin pump or a healthy pancreas transplant, the bacteria do not cause discomfort or provoke an immune system response.


Further research will now determine how many bacteria are needed to produce sufficient amounts of insulin.


Salmonella explodes cancer tumors

Scientists use gene-enhanced salmonella bacteria in suicide attacks against cancer tumors.

A new cancer treatment gets unexpected help: from the notorious salmonella bacterium. Scientists have genetically modified the bacteria so that they act like suicide bombs that sacrifice themselves but take cancer cells with them in the fall.


Experiments have shown significant results in mice with liver tumors.
The mice were fed bacteria that then reached the part of the tumors where there were no blood vessels or oxygen uptake.


Salmonella bacteria can thrive in hypoxic environments where chemical treatment does not work.


The bacteria are equipped with a whole arsenal of different weapons that, for example, break down the protective membrane of cancer cells and activate the body’s immune response.

1. Bacteria hide in tumors

Desirable salmonella bacteria leave the stomach and spread throughout the body with the blood. The bacteria find oxygen-poor areas of cancer tumors and hide there from the immune system. Over time they accumulate.

2. Congestion causes an explosion

Bacteria are genetically engineered to burst when they accumulate in sufficient numbers in tumors. When the bacteria die, they release substances that poison cancer cells, or activate the immune system.

3. Explosions start again

About a tenth of the bacteria survive the attack and build new, stronger suicide bombs for the next attack. The tumor shrinks by a third. This combined with chemotherapy increases the life expectancy of patients.

The bacteria make a collective attack when a sufficient number of bacteria have reached the same area.

In an experiment with mice, the bacteria together with chemical treatment stopped the growth of the tumors and they shrunk so that the lifespan of the mice increased by half compared to other mice that did not receive any treatment.

The suicide bacteria are also responsible for keeping the number of bacteria down in the body.

Spam calls

Mutant bacteria eat plastic

A newly discovered bacterium has learned to break down and live on plastic. Now these tiny microbes have paved the way for the development of new methods of removing plastic from nature.

Plastic waste in nature is a huge environmental problem. But the solution could be tiny.

Scientists have discovered a bacterium called Ideononella sakaiensis that secretes the enzyme PETase, which breaks down the material PET from, for example, plastic bottles.

I. sakaiensis can attach itself to, for example, a plastic bottle and secrete the enzyme PETase, which breaks down plastic into so-called MHET. This material can be taken up by the bacteria and broken down into shorter but more harmless molecular chains such as carbon dioxide and sugars.

By isolating the enzyme, the researchers created a mutant that breaks down PET in a matter of days – about a fifth faster than normal enzymes.

Scientists estimate that it takes between 450 and 1000 years for a PET plastic bottle to decompose in the ocean or on the forest floor.

In just 60 years, the bacteria have mutated in landfills where they had no other food than plastic.

By uncovering their PETase-degrading secret, scientists hope the chemical catalysts and bacteria will make a difference in removing more types of plastic from nature.


Bacteria improve the nutrition of food

Research has uncovered new and healthy effects by attracting bacteria into the kitchen.

Olives, sauerkraut, bread, beer and yogurt are food products based on fermentation. Bacteria initiate fermentation – a chemical process that bacteria and germs initiate and thus change the taste and nutritional content of food.

Humanity has been using fermentation for more than 8,000 years. New research shows that fermentation breaks down substances that block nutrient absorption and preserves vitamins that other cooking methods break down.

Natto is fermented soybeans that contain the enzyme nattokinase, which appears to reduce blood pressure.

Bacteria in pickled cucumbers, natto and sauerkraut produce vitamin K2, which humans cannot synthesize themselves but must take in with food.

The bacteria can also benefit the cardiovascular system, the immune system and metabolism.

Lactic acid bacteria are the most common bacteria in food production and are used, among other things, to make yogurt and cheese by converting the sugar lactose into lactic acid, which binds the milk proteins together into a dense clump.

Investigative police

E. coli become landmine sniffers

You usually associate food poisoning with it, but e. coli – the bacterium can also be a clever detective. Through genetic modification, scientists have trained her to find landmines.

More than 100 million landmines lie around the globe, causing great danger to the population of war-torn areas. Therefore, scientists have transformed e. coli – the bacterium to shed light on these hidden death traps.

Bacteria point to landmines

Bacteria balls spread

At night, there are balls of algae full of genetically modified e. coli – bacteria spread over places where landmines are believed to be.

Explosives set off lights

After three hours, the bacteria have smelled the explosive TNT. The smell causes them to produce the protein GFP, which emits fluorescent light when the ball is illuminated with laser beams, for example from a drone.

Light reveals landmines

Cameras on the drones map luminous beads that indicate the presence of a mine within two meters. Next, explosives experts remove the artifact.

The explosive in landmines, TNT, releases vapors that build up in the ground. The bacteria are equipped with genes that produce autoluminescent proteins when they come into contact with TNT and its main breakdown product, DNT.

By spreading spheres of organic algal material full of bacteria in a minefield, a scanning system can detect light from spheres lying close to mines.

The scientists behind these genetically modified explosive experts are still working on refining the technology.

In this way, they intend to search for other types of explosives and also to extend the range of laser beam systems by connecting them to drones so that large areas can be scanned quickly.

In addition, they want to limit the lifespan of the microbes so that they die soon after success is achieved to prevent genetically enhanced organisms from settling in the environment.

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