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The microbiome of Da Vinci’s drawings



The microbiome of Da Vinci's drawings

Sampling of microbes from da Vinci’s Portrait of a man in red chalk (1

512) Credit: The authors

Leonardo Da Vinci’s work is an invaluable legacy from the 15th century. From engineering to anatomy, the master paved the way for many scientific disciplines. But what else could the drawings of Da Vinci teach us? Could molecular studies reveal interesting data from the past? These questions led an interdisciplinary team of researchers, curators and bioinformatics from both the University of Natural Resources and Life Science and the University of Applied Science in Vienna, Austria, as well as the Central Institute for the Pathology of Archives and Books (ICPAL) in Italy to collaborate and study the microbiome of seven different drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci.


The molecular study of works of art has already proved to be a valuable approach, and Dr. Piñar, the first author of the study, is not at his first attempt. In 2019, her team was able to investigate the storage conditions and even the possible geographical origin of three statues requisitioned from smugglers through the investigation of their microbiome, and earlier this year the microbiome from ancient parchments was allowed to illuminate the animal’s animal origins used. to their manufacture 1000 years ago. In the study presented here, the Austrian team uses an innovative genomic approach called Nanopore, considered third-generation sequencing, to reveal for the first time the complete microbiome composition of several of Da Vinci’s drawings. The study was published today in Limits in microbiology.

Overall, the results show a surprising dominance of bacteria over fungi. Until now, fungi were considered to be a dominant community in paper-backed art and tended to be the main focus of microbial analysis because of their biodeterionation potential. Here, a high proportion of these bacteria are either typical of the human microbiome, certainly introduced by intensive handling of the drawings during restoration work, or similar to insect microbiomes, which could have been introduced long ago through flies and their excrement.

The microbiome of Da Vinci's drawings

Da Vinci’s “Uomo della Bitta” Credit: The Authors

Another interesting observation is the presence of a lot of human DNA. Unfortunately, we can not assume that this DNA comes from the master himself, but rather it could have been introduced by the restoration workers over the years. Finally, for both bacterial and fungal communities, correlations with the geographical location of the drawings can be observed.

The microbiome of Da Vinci's drawings

Sampling microbiome from Da Vinci’s Drapery Study for a Kneeling Figure (ca. 1475) Credit: The authors

All in all, the insects, the restoration work and the geographical location seem to have left a trail invisible to the eye of the drawings. Although it is difficult to say whether any of these pollutants originated from the time Leonardo Da Vinci drew his drawings, Dr. Piñar the importance that tracking of this data can have: monitoring of artefacts. It allows for the assessment of the microbiomes and the visualization of its variations due to harmful situations. This can be used as a bioarchive of the history of the objects, giving a kind of fingerprint to current and future comparisons. “Thus, researchers were able to develop new methods to not only preserve the visual appearance of art, but also to document the invisible journey in our artistic and cultural heritage.


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More information:
Guadalupe Piñar et al., The microbiome of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings: A bioarchive of their history, Limits in microbiology (2020). DOI: 10.3389 / fmicb.2020.593401

Citation: The microbiome of Da Vinci’s drawings (2020, November 20) retrieved November 20, 2020 from https://phys.org/news/2020-11-microbiome-da-vinci.html

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