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Microbiology in the Arts

A newly established focus in research and teaching at INTK is the study of interactions between microorganisms - molds, bacteria, archaea, algae, lichens -and materials. The use of the latest molecular biological methods from genomics and transcriptomics allows the complete recording of microbial communities and their properties with regard to the modification and aging of materials. Practical aspects such as the handling of mold-infested collections, proper cleaning and prevention of mold infestation in museums, archives and collections are also part of our activities.

Molecular characterization of microbial communities

The latest molecular biological methods make it possible to record and analyze the entire genetic information (DNA) present on and in an object. The analysis of the recent and the already dead microbial community based on their DNA - the microbiome - with the methods of metagenomics provides information on:

  • Conservation status of an object and the latent risk of biogenic destruction.
  • Origin and geographical movements of objects.
  • Storage conditions of objects.
  • Production of objects.
  • History of use of objects.

Through metagenomic analyses, we have been able to make an important contribution in recent years in collaboration with the Instituto Centrale per il Restauro e la Conservatione del Patrimonio Archivistico e Librario (Rome, IT), in collaboration with the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, to clarify the background of some antiquities confiscated by customs, and in collaboration with CIMA, within the framework of an FWF project, to clarify from which animal skins the parchment used for valuable Slavonic manuscripts was made.

Microbiological diagnostics and consulting

  • Diagnosis and analysis of recent and past damage to objects, in museums, collections and archives.
  • Morphological and molecular identification of microorganisms.
  • Investigation of interactions between material and fungi, bacteria, archaea, lichens, algae, etc.
  • Advice for museums, collections, archives, conservators and artists on appropriate treatment, cleaning and measures to prevent microbial growth on objects and indoors (especially mold).
  • Monitoring of conservation measures to minimize biogenic destruction processes.