A really interesting aspect of Japan’s most recent and disastrous earthquake and tsunami involves microbial impact on cultural property and documents. Even as a student in microbiology, I never considered how these natural disasters could exacerbate the problem of biodeterioration. A 2013 article by Gu et al summarizes some important information presented at The International Symposium on the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (held December 2012 in Tokyo National Museum). The symposium’s aim is to determine ways to protect and restore cultural items, of which microbial degradation plays a huge role. Interestingly, salt water was found to be a useful way to control fungal growth on documents. A huge amount of documents need to be restored after natural disasters, so dunking them in tanks of saline would be incredibly useful.
Alex Alexiev is an undergraduate in Jonathan Eisen’s lab, working on aquariums as part of the microbiology of the built environment