Biodeterioration and environment
The work of the Biodeterioration and Environment section is centered on preventing the proliferation of any microorganisms present in cultural objects and on treating any microorganism-induced damage. Microorganisms, and in particular microfungi (molds and yeasts), are common causes of degradation in collections containing organic materials and are the most difficult to eradicate. Their development depends on environmental conditions (temperature, humidity, air flows), the composition and degree of deterioration of the medium, and the metabolic capacity of the species present with regard to the colonized medium. In favorable growth conditions, they can develop and multiply rapidly. The presence of such microorganisms is not only therefore a significant risk for the collections themselves, but also for the people handling the contaminated objects.
Preventive strategies require a deeper understanding of microfungi (their biology, metabolism, physiology, ecology) and comprehension of their behavior with regard to the materials contained in the heritage objects in the different environments in which they are to be found. There are several research activities under way, with the following aims:
Gauging the contaminating load (mold detection through calculations of load energy based on ATP bioluminescence assay and assessment of fungal contamination in archive storage areas),
Identifying the nature and role of the species present (microfungal identification via DNA analysis and study of their role in chromatic degradation of paper, and, more specifically, in the formation of brown spots known as “foxing”.
Monitoring the impact of thermo-hygrometric variations on fungal contamination in storage areas.
Curative strategies involve developing decontamination and disinfection methods for the affected surfaces, heritage objects and storage areas. Some of the research topics studied in recent years that we could cite include: the study of antifungal properties of essential oils and related products; the effect of linalool on paper samples; leather bindings and photographic materials; the development of a preservation protocol suitable for waterlogged archeological objects comprising both iron and wood. The Biodeterioration and Environment section is currently participating in research for the CNC designed to evaluate treatments for eradicating fungal contamination from old cinematographic film.
The Biodeterioration and Environment section also plays a significant role as a service-provider. It receives queries from curators dealing with fungal contamination in their collections.
In order to support the research studies on biocontamination, a Fungus Culture Collection has been built up for certain fungal strains isolated from contaminated heritage collections.
The MYCOTA database: In order to collate key information concerning the biology, physiology, biochemistry and ecology of the strains causing biodeterioration in collections, a database has been put on-line. It contains data stemming both from laboratory experimentation and from desk research.