Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Buckingham Palace Built with Jurassic Microbes

A study published in Scientific Reports has found that the building blocks of Buckingham Palace were made by microbes that lived up to 200 million years ago during the Jurassic period.

The material, known as oolitic limestone, is a popular building material around the world and is almost completely made of millimetre-sized carbonate spheres called ooids.

Dr Bob Burne of the Australian National University (ANU) said the new study found that ooids were made of concentric layers of mineralised microbes, debunking the popular “snowball theory” that ooids were formed by grains rolling on the seafloor and accumulating layers of sediment. “We have proposed a radically different explanation for the origin of ooids that explains their definitive features,” he said.

Different types of oolitic limestones have formed in all geological periods and have been found around the world, including Shark Bay in Western Australia. Burne said humans had known about and used oolitic limestone since ancient times. “Many oolitic limestones form excellent building stones because they are strong and lightweight,” he said.

“Jurassic oolite in England has been used to construct much of the City of Bath, the British Museum and St Paul’s Cathedral. Mississippian oolite found in Indiana in the US has been used to build parts of the Pentagon in Virginia and parts of the Empire State Building in New York City.”

“Our mathematical model explains the concentric accumulation of layers, and predicts a limiting size of ooids,” said study leader Prof Murray Batchelor of ANU. “We considered the problem theoretically using an approach inspired by a mathematical model developed in 1972 for the growth of some brain tumours.”