Department of Biotechnologies and Biosciences

The Department of Biotechnologies and Biosciences is involved in many applications in the Cultural Heritage field. The strong points of the Department are molecular diagnostics, composed of a chemical-physical and a biological approach.

Biological approach

The ZooPlantLab group developed an approach based on DNA analysis (DNA barcoding and DNA metabarcoding) that allows the identification of the biological components in an artwork (statues, paintings, etc.). The potential of this technology resides in the possibility of identifying biological contaminants, such as bacteria, mushrooms and moulds, that can alter the integrity of materials. Through molecular analysis, it is also possible to reconstruct the provenance history of the work: this is done by analyzing the pollen deposited on the work surfaces.

Immagine esemplificativa del DNA barcode
Esempio di analisi machine learning

The advantage of this system is its versatility: there is no need for prior information on the contaminants, a few molecules of amplified and sequenced DNA can identify them. An application of this technique allowed the identification of characteristic microbic families in historical and famous wines. The same technique is used to identify contaminants in painting pigments or the botanical components of monuments infesting patinae.

Chemical approach

The Department uses systems for molecular sampling and analysis, and developed analytical chemistry systems aimed at the identification of biological molecules (secondary metabolites) that could alter the materials.

Moreover, the Department developed a machine learning integrated approach to study how the environmental parameters, such as light and moisture, can favour biological contaminants. This study is aimed at the preservation of materials and the limitation of contaminants spreading, using microbial families that attack the contaminants and designing more appropriate storage environments.