Review on Techniques for Protecting Cultural Heritage Materials from Microbes

Many cultural heritage materials, like statues and scriptures, are lost to microbial degradation. For these important relics of the past to continue to stand the test of time, it is important to be able to effectively test and identify microbes that will harm these materials. This 2016 review from Sanmartín et al aims to evaluate traditional and modern microbiological methods for testing microbes on cultural heritage materials.

via Flickr under public domain license
via Flickr under public domain license

They found that while ribosomal DNA-based methods were effective in giving researchers a full picture of the microbial ecology on the materials they sampled from, they could not know the metabolic potential of the microbes they sequenced without including other methods. On the other hand, culturing is very limiting in what part of the bacterial population will be recovered. The good news is that culturing reveals most of the fungi present on the material sampled. Microscopy also was useful in identification of microbes. The conclusion was that all three methods should be used in conjunction to characterize the diversity and ecology of microbes on cultural heritage materials…a wise step for any field, by the looks of it.

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Alex Alexiev

Alex Alexiev is a recent UC Davis graduate with a BS in microbiology working in Jonathan Eisen’s lab on aquariums as part of the microbiology of the built environment.