Torralba MG, Kuelbs C, Moncera KJ, Roby R, Nelson KE

Characterizing Microbial Signatures on Sculptures and Paintings of Similar Provenance.

Microbial ecology. 2021-05-01; 81.4: 1098-1105.

The preservation of artwork challenges museums, collectors, and art enthusiasts. Currently, reducing moisture, adjusting the type of lighting, and preventing the formation of mold are primary methods to preserving and preventing deterioration. Other methods such as ones based in detailed knowledge of molecular biology such as microbial community characterization using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and sequencing have yet to be explored. Such molecular biology approaches are essential to explore as some environmental bacteria are capable of oxidizing nonpolar chemical substances rich in hydrocarbons such as oil-based paints. Using 16S rDNA Illumina Sequencing, we demonstrate a novel finding that there are differing bacterial communities for artwork from roughly the same era when comparing paintings on wood, paintings on canvases, and sculptures made of stone and marble. We also demonstrate that there are specific genera such as Aeromonas known for having oxidase positive strains, present on paintings on wood and paintings on canvas that could potentially be responsible for deterioration and fading as such organisms produce water or hydrogen peroxide as a byproduct of cytochrome c oxidase activity. The advantages of these genomics-based approaches to characterizing the microbial population on deteriorating artwork provides immense potential by identifying potentially damaging species that may not be detected using conventional methods in addition to addressing challenges to identification, restoration, and preservation efforts.

PMID: 32440698