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Like so many innovations in material science these days, it sounds utterly fictional and totally fantastic: tiny bacteria (humorously and aptly dubbed BacillaFilla) genetically modified to seek out cracks in concrete then secrete organic glue, effectively as strong as the surrounding structure.

Consider the consequences: compromised buildings could quite literally ‘healed’ by these microbes rather than razed, saving huge environmental, labor and material costs. Picture post-earthquake zones or simply all of the aged infrastructure this could impact, from streets and sidewalks to subway stations and retaining walls.

The giant pyramid-shaped abandoned hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, comes to mind – intended to be a monumental masterpiece, it cannot even be occupied thanks to its poorly-mixed concrete. The failure is so embarrassing that the state officially denies the building exists, despite numerous photos and satellite images.

Of course, there are built in self-destructs to keep these bacteria from spreading concrete all over the place … but imagine if you coupled their capacity with nano-technology. We may be one step closer to being able to fully program buildings that, to the naked eye, will appear to grow organically out of thin air. Mind-boggling does not begin to cover it.