Michelangelo's Marble Statues Cleaned with Bacteria Biology

Michelangelo's Marble Statues Cleaned with Bacteria

The team selected specialized strains of bacteria to target different types of stains on the marble. Some types of bacteria can thrive in harsh environments and are adapted to eating things that can cause problems in humans. They can split even dirt into relatively harmless components.

In this case, the team was looking for strains of bacteria that corrode stains and other debris without damaging the marble itself, and conducted tests on an inconspicuous section of marble behind the altar in the chapel. The scientists found several suitable types of microbes and used a gel to apply them to the statues. Various strains of bacteria have corroded the remains, glue and even stains of an improperly disposed corpse thrown into one of the tombs in 1537.

This is not the first time that bacteria have been used to clean art objects. Italy, in particular, is known for making microbes work for the benefit of restorers. Thus, sulfur-absorbing bacteria were used to remove black crusts from parts of the Milan Cathedral, and they performed better than comparable chemical treatment. In Pisa, a strain of bacteria feeding on pollutants helped clean damaged frescoes on the dome of the cathedral and in the cemetery near the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Other researchers are mapping bacteria and other tiny creatures that already live in the paintings. They found that some microbes that have settled on the pigments may actually help prevent the deterioration of artwork.