Chapter 3 : The Microbiology of Art

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This chapter talks about microbiology and cultural heritage by referring to deterioration, destruction, and devaluation. Alongside such evidence of microbial attack, recent years have seen the emergence of a new, artistic branch of applied microbiology. Based at the University of Molise in Campobasso, Italy, Giancarlo Ranalli has combined whole bacterial cells with a purified bacterial enzyme to restore a fresco by Spinello Artino. During the 1980s, technicians attempted to preserve the precious artifact by sticking gauze to the intelaggio with animal glue. First, however, the University of Molise team had to determine the precise nature of the unwanted organic matter on the fresco, some of which had been made more resistant by being polymerized by substances used in earlier restoration attempts. By using appropriate microorganisms, Ranalli and his colleagues achieved several successes in removing sulfates, nitrates, and organic substances from artistic stonework. They believed that bioremediation had a major role to play as a "soft" technology in restoring monuments and other artifacts degraded by atmospheric pollutants. Microorganisms play a negative role in this context. Eberhard Bock and colleagues at the Institute for General Botany and Microbiology in Hamburg, Germany, have shown that air pollution is not the whole story. The first clues emerged when Bock used electron microscopy to study what was happening on and inside exposed concrete and sandstone.

Citation: Dixon B. 2009. The Microbiology of Art, p 13-16. In Animalcules. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817442.ch3
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1. Ranalli, G.,, G. Alfano,, C. Belli,, G. Lustrato,, M. P. Colombini,, I. Bonaduce,, E. Zanardini,, P. Abbruscato,, F. Cappitelli,, and C. Sorlini. 2004. Biotechnology applied to cultural heritage: biorestoration of frescoes using viable bacterial cells and enzymes. J. Appl. Microbiol. 98: 73 83.

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