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Pico Plumber – Fixes pipe leaks with E. coli


The boffins at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland have come up with a novel idea for detecting and repairing water pipe leaks. They did it by engineering a strain of the E. coli bacterium, they dubbed Pico Plumber, that could detect a special chemical that is released at a break in the pipe. The bacteria swim to the break and when there are sufficient bacteria at the site, they start producing a two part glue, one half of the glue is excreted externally, the other half is made internally. When it’s ready to mix the bacteria burst and the glue halves react. It’s just a proof-of-concept at the moment but self sealing water pipes have the potential to save an awful lot of water. I’m not sure about drinking a mix of smashed E. coli and two-part glue in my water though. Where’s that water purifier…

Engineered E. coli will detect leaks by homing in on a chemical signal released at the leak site. As the bacteria migrate towards the leak, they will synthesise two proteins, one on the outside of the cell, the other inside, which represent the two components of a biological, protein glue. The adhesive is only activated when the two components mix. The E. coli cells will be engineered to burst at the leak site, mixing the two glue components and creating a sticky protein plug to repair the pipe.

Tags: pico+plumber, self+sealing+water+pipes, university+of+aberdeen

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