Thursday , December 3 2020

Da Vinci’s drawings contain bacteria, fungi and human DNA



Da Vinci’s drawings are famous for developing various nuances and advanced technological ideas. However, new research has revealed a different level of complexity in Leonardo Da Vinci’s artwork: a hidden world of small life forms.

Researchers said the findings could help create a microbiome “catalog” for works of art. Each piece contained a unique microbial collection that could be identified later by studying their microscopic biology.

Importantly, the microbiomes in Da Vinci’s drawings had enough key elements in common to help identify fakes based on the differences between each microbiome. Or even authentic designs that have been stored under different conditions over the centuries.

The microbiome in the Da Vinci drawings

In addition to these data, the researchers also showed that Da Vinci’s drawings had a very different microbiome than expected, with a few bacteria and human DNA. Probably through the ages of manipulation by art restorers and more.

studied drawings
I studied drawings. Photos: (Pinar et al., Frontiers, 2020)

In fact, the role of restorers is considered more important as there were microbes present known to play a role in degrading these designs over time.

Therefore, the study is a proof-of-concept attempt, showing in the future how microbiomes can reveal unexpected stories of some works of art and help detect counterfeits. In this way, scientists examined microscopic biological material, living and dead, in the master’s seven symbolic drawings.

Surprisingly, they discovered a variety of bacteria, fungi, and human DNA.

The story told by biological materials

Most of the material collected probably ended up in Da Vinci’s drawings long after his death, 501 years ago. So DNA (or at least a good concentration of it) comes from other people who have manipulated designs over the centuries.

But the new biological materials have a lot to tell. The biggest surprise reported by researchers was the high concentration of bacteria in works of art, especially when compared to fungi.

The discovery was considered unique because previous studies showed mushrooms tending to dominate the microbiome in paper objects such as these drawings. However, in this case a large amount of bacteria from humans and insects (possibly flies depositing their faeces) was present.

insect droppings
Insect droppings. (Pinar et al., Frontiers, 2020)

“Overall, the insects, restorers and geographic location seem to leave an invisible mark on the drawings,” the researchers said in a statement. It is hard to say whether any of these pollutants date back to Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketching.

Indeed, most of the DNA came from people who had recreated the 15th century masterpiece. However, the team had yet to analyze the genetic material in detail to see who it might have come from.

Overall, the scientists used a new tool called Nanopore, a genetic sequencing method that rapidly breaks down and analyzes genetic material to study various biological materials in detail.

Study published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology .


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