built environments

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Repairing Concrete with Bacterial Builders

Can bacteria be the solution to collapsing bridges and cracking roads? Researches from Delft Technical University are developing a bacteria-infused concrete that can repair itself.

Concrete is created from a combination of water, aggregate (such as sand, gravel, stone) and cement. It dates back to the Roman Empire and structures made from concrete such as the Pantheon and the Colosseum still stand today. However, concrete tends to form cracks, which reduces its lifetime. Once cracks form, water and chemicals can seep in further reducing its structural integrity. Traditional methods to repair concrete can be costly and require hands-on work. What if there was a way for concrete to heal itself? (more…)

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Meet a Microbiologist: Erica Hartmann

Erica’s foray into science didn’t specifically begin with microbiology. Her father worked at NASA and while accompanying him to work on “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” every year, she’s tried all sorts of things, even astronaut ice cream. She’s read a lot about science and her interest grew. “The Hot Zone especially scared the bejeezus out of me but was also fascinating,” she recalls. She grew up near Reston, Virginia, where Reston Virus (causes Ebola symptoms in non-human primates) was discovered. While she was in high school, she closely followed the race to sequence the human genome. “It felt hugely important and revolutionary, and I wanted to be a part of it,” Erica says. (more…)

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Scared of subway germs? Fear not, for they are harmless

"You can either embrace the dirt and the germs as part of the risky joy of living in an exciting, overpopulated metropolis, or you can spend lots of mental real estate obsessing over whether you touched a few extra microbes when you got on the subway.” - Zack Love

I have to admit that I am somewhat of a germaphobe. When I first moved to Boston and spent over two hours a day on the subway (called the T) to get to and from lab, I feared I would get sick all the time from touching things or sitting next to someone coughing up a lung. But was my fear of the T warranted? (more…)

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Metropolitan Microbes: Microbiomes of Indoor Environments

In recent years, the human microbiome has gotten a lot of press. We have read about how our gut microbes affect our eating habits, immune system and mind. But what about the microbes that surround us indoors? We spend most of our time indoors, at home, in our cars, in offices and other buildings. We interact with these "built environments" (BE) extensively, leaving microbes from our skin on the surfaces we touch and also acquiring microbes that are already present on these surfaces. Airborne microbes from the outdoors or from humans also accumulate on these surfaces and travel throughout our indoor spaces. In a recent paper from the Caporaso lab, the individual factors that affect the microbiome of BEs were explored. (more…)