Ubiquitous fungus

During his time at the University of Glasgow, Guido Pontecorvo carried out experiments involving the  fungus Aspergillus nidulans, and techniques for exploring the nature of gene action. He believed that “in no area of biology have ideas arisen so often in advance of time as in genetics or its offshoot, molecular biology” and this to him, was one of the most fascinating aspects of the field.

Karyn, the project assistant working on the Pontecorvo project, gained a special insight into Pontecorvo’s world of fungus and his inspirations and visions regarding the experiments which could be carried out on mould.  Moulds and fungi are collective terms used to describe microscopic organisms such as Aspergillus terreus, Acrothecium, Chaetomium globosum, Cladosporium, Oencillium notatum, Pellicularia isabellina, Penicillium. Using a microscope, we can observe the different colours and shapes of moulds, which range from white to green and purple to black. Pontecorvo was most famous for his work involving Aspergillus nidulans. 

Here in the Preservation Unit we also work with fungi, although our job is very different from the work of Pontecorvo. The presence of mould in a collection is one of the most common reasons for deterioration of the items held in libraries and archives. Many of the books are stored in conditions in which fungi will thrive, for example; areas where a large amount of mucilage such as glue, flour, or animal skin or bone, or areas where water and dust penetrate  deep into the pages of the book, causing fungal spores to settle and creating ideal conditions for mould growth. For this reason, many of our projects involve the removal of mould from books and manuscripts. We have removed many different types of mould, such as Aspergillus, Penicillium, Chaetomium and Cladosporium.

In August 2011, the Preservation Unit was involved in a project to remove mould from a collection books donated to the NHS Archive. 102 books from Glasgow Royal Mental Hospital Ladies collection have  now been frozen, dried out, cleaned of mould and are now fit to be accessed by researchers.

From a paper conservator’s point of view moulds are regarded as dangerous, as some moulds can cause serious illness and should only be dealt with by paper conservator a mycologist. However, some moulds also perform very useful functions, such as helping to produce antibiotics or making cheese. Some of my colleagues, after completing a mould removal project successfully, like to read about the Pharaoh’s curse and eat blue cheese while thinking about the significant impact mould can have on our everyday lives.

Categories: Archive Services

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2 replies

  1. I recently inherited a collection of very old books and one very old, very large dictionary had be one so infested with aspergillus of some type that when I removed it from my home the entire house smelled different. I want to make sure the rest of the collection and my fathers library is cleaned and preserved so hopefully one day all the books he and my grandfather read, collected and wrote can be enjoyed by my children and their children after that. How can I rid paper and leather bound books of mold without ruining the texts or impacting their historical and monetary value? My home is full if antiques that have been in my family for generations. My great great great great grandfather was Colonal James Barrett from Concord Massachusettes and I would hate to see any of these items, some of which trace all the way back to tbe Barrett Farm, damaged by mold. Is it possible to tent a home and have everything treated at one time so I can be sure that all the resting spores have been destroyed.

    • Thank you very much for your letter. Your great great great great grandfather Colonel James Barrett from Concord Massachusetts was not only important person for your family, was also a very important person in the history. You already made the first step very well and I am glad you remove and isolate book with mould contamination from collection. This will prevent mould spores from dispersing into clean areas and the rest of the building. Please try to keep the room with all your collection that is easy to clean. Please to increase air circulation (fans and a constant flow of air can also be helpful to prevent mould and mildew) and clean only with vacuum with HEPA filter. Moulds spores are caught by the HEPA filter and kept inside the vacuum. My advice is to try to control temperature and relative humidity and kept them in relatively lower. Ideally, a climate of 65-70°F and 50-55% relative humidity is best. Humidity can be modified with humidifiers or dehumidifiers.
      If is possible, please to locate a paper conservator for assess your collection, many of the professional conservation organizations to offer a list of individuals in your area who undertake conservation treatments.
      Best wishes

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