Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Using Biotechnology in Cultural Heritage Conservation

In the 4th Cultural Heritage Conservation Forum held this week in Caracas, Venezuela, curators will be collaborating with biotech scientists to find ways to restore and prevent the decay of art and cultural artefacts using biotechnology.

Prof. Giancarlo Ranalli, of the Universitá degli Studi del Molise in Pesche, Italy, for example, will describe his successful use of micro-organisms instead of chemicals to remove alterations black crusts, nitrates, sulphates and other alterations from masonry, as well as unwanted animal glue from important painted frescos in Pisa and elsewhere in Italy subjected to well-intentioned but ill-advised restoration and preservation attempts in the 1980s.

Similarly, Sofía Borrego Alonso of the Archivo Nacional de la República de Cuba, says using costly chemical biocides to combat infestations of microorganisms and insects, the principal agents of biodeterioration of cultural documents, not only harms the people that apply them, they accelerate the materials' deterioration.

She will advocate the use of natural, plant-derived products successfully tested in Cuba's National Archives.

Spanish researcher Nieves Valentin Rodrigo of the Instituto de Patrimonio Cultural de España, Madrid, takes the idea a step further, promoting the use of micro-organisms as biosensors to forewarn curators of potential risks to art objects from such threats as pollution and dust levels. She says fungi and bacteria can be harnessed to warn of significant environmental fluctuations and the impact of too many visitors.



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