Editor’s Choice 
2018 Skyscraper Competition

Maryam Fazel, Sukaina Adnan Almousa, Maryam Safari
Iran, United Kingdom, United States

Following the tragic earthquake of 2017 in west part of the Iranian terrain, people of the affected area have witnessed a devastating feeling; fleeing their homes or trapped under buildings. This tragedy and similar ones in the world are all due to many reasons that together weaken the supporting system offered to people in earthquake regions. One of the main causes of such disaster is the lack of alarming systems that can detect the approach of earthquakes. A post-disaster situation of kiosk and devastation is caused also by lack of efficient evacuation structure that can help people run for a shelter in a short time.

Addressing these problems, this project is a proposal of a skyscraper that responds to earthquake before it happens. In this premise, the structure works on two levels; one is the monitoring system, which constitutes of a biotechnological facade containing microfluidics channels continuously culturing genetically engineered harmless bacteria that is engineered to acts a biosensor system. The other level is the core of the building and the evacuation system. The skyscraper is built on a shock absorbent structure that will increase safety factor once in an earthquake emergency. It is -on the other hand- supported by pods that are set on platform scattered along multiple levels. These pods work as assembly points that can then fly people to the nearest safe zone. Users of the building can access the platforms easily.

Biosensor monitoring system
Throughout the evolution and natural selection animals have developed mechanisms and behaviours to help them avoid mortality and enhance their survival. As such is the ability to recognise and respond to sophisticated environmental patterns to avoid potential dangers like powerful earthquakes. There are several examples of this behaviour where a sensory input (e.g. sound, vibrations, humidity, heat etc.) elicits an inherited immediate and involuntary reaction. Pre-earthquake behaviour in animals is among such behaviour (displaying panic; for examples dogs barking or birds screaming, rats running out of their holes etc.) that has been reported in the days, hours and minutes prior to earthquakes. As an instance, prior to a big earthquake vibrational earthquake P waves travel around 2-4 km/sec faster through the earth crust than the secondary and more damaging S waves. Animals seem to be able to detect the vibrations that occur when P waves arrive which can act as a warning to trigger an immediate response to avoid threat/death prior to the arrival of the S waves.  Such animal behaviours including the sensory perception of the environmental changes are under control of genes that have evolved over millions of years through the process of natural selection.

In this project, we utilise the sensor responsive genes in animals, that enables them to detect and respond to environmental signals/changes, and use that to generate a biosensor system to predict powerful earthquakes. Exploiting genetic engineering tools, we first extract the sensory gene from animals and fuse that to another gene coding for the Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) (when GFP gene is expressed/active it will produce a protein with green fluorescent light emission). This way whenever the first gene (sensory element) is expressed/activated the second gene (GFP) will also be expressed simultaneously. The construct is then introduced into the DNA of simple harmless bacteria that acts as an expression system (i.e. utilising bacterial DNA processing machinery that enables the expression of the genes of interest). This creates a system whereby following the activation of the sensory gene (due to environmental signals like vibration, fluctuations in electromagnetic fields, humidity change etc.) the GFP gene will also be expressed alongside in the bacteria creating visually detectable biosensor system (i.e. bacteria emit green fluorescent light).  The benefit of the bacterial biosensor system is to take advantage of the animal’s ability to detect pre-earthquake signals from the environment that are otherwise undetectable to humans and translating them into a visual language that enables people to become aware of the forthcoming hazards.

This continues biosensor system is constantly monitored by detectors linked to cameras and other alarm systems and the interpreted data will be displayed visually by colour on the envelop of the building.

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