Our next posting for @ScienceWeek UK #BSW2016 brings you fungi as you’ve (probably) never seen them before. Sophie Downes describes investigations into the interactions of fungi with heritage collections in a doctoral project sponsored by English Heritage and the National Trust. The research will help to show how fungi can degrade materials by changing the fibre characteristics (like surface topology or dimensions) as well as discovering how they grow into materials, not just on the surface. This can have implications for conservation treatment and cleaning, as well as thinking about how objects are displayed and monitored.
The doctoral project to investigate the interactions of fungi with heritage collections is in its third year with the current phase of work, involving confocal laser scanning fluorescence microscopy, running for the next 12 weeks.
Confocal laser scanning fluorescence microscopy is often used for live cell imaging. Using an adapted mounting technique, it has been possible to use this technology to view viable fungi interacting with organic materials, representative of heritage collections.
Nine different organic materials have been inoculated with the three most prevalent fungi found in historic buildings (during this project) and images recorded weekly to monitor growth and changes in the materials. The materials and fungi are each dyed with a different stain so that they will fluoresce at different wavelengths, producing a different colour in the final image.
Using this technique, it is also possible to create a stack of orthogonal images as the laser penetrates through the material. This means that live fungal growth can be observed in three dimensions.
The research will provide greater insight into fungal growth on heritage collections with forthcoming publications sharing the knowledge with other heritage professionals.