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