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Microbes pose a risk to prehistoric cave paintings

AuthorsGonzález Grau, Juan Miguel ; Portillo Guisado, María del Carmen ; Sáiz-Jiménez, Cesáreo
KeywordsPrehistoric cave paintings
Biological factors
Damaging effects of microorganisms
Issue Date2008
PublisherAmerican Society for Microbiology
CitationMicrobe magazine 3(2): 72-77 (2008)
AbstractPrehistoric cave paintings, some of them dating back 20,000 years, are a unique legacy of considerable importance. Because caves containing such paintings, particularly Altamira in Spain and Lascaux in France, have drawn millions of visitors and attract considerable cultural and political attention, their preservation is a priority (Fig. 1). Prehistoric paintings are exposed to a variety of potentially damaging physical, chemical, and biological factors. Among the latter, microorganisms are of special importance through colony and biofilm formation. In some cases, microorganisms may damage or destroy paintings by using them as substrates during growth, by producing destructive metabolites, or by covering them. Hence, conservators, management agencies, and the general public share concerns about preserving these fragile works of art. Investigating the damaging effects of microorganisms on cave paintings involves two basic steps. First, investigators survey the diversity of microorganisms that are associated with paintings on cave walls to understand which components within those microbial communities are causing deterioration. Second, investigators try to uncover the metabolic capabilities of these microorganisms to learn which members carry a serious risk for that artwork.
Publisher version (URL)http://www.microbemagazine.org/
Appears in Collections:(IRNAS) Artículos
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