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Scientists pioneer biotech techniques to halt infestation of history, art treasures in tropics

The use of biotechnologies originally intended to remedy crop infestations and other problems is being pioneered in the protection of priceless art and historical archives in tropical countries from decay caused by insects, heat, humidity and other natural causes.

A specialized UN University program in Venezuela, UNU-BIOLAC, is leading the way in the application of biotech techniques to extend the life of some of the world's most important cultural heritage.

Art preservation protocols and strategies have largely been devised in northern countries with temperate weather. But the climate of the tropics and sub-tropics presents different, more complex challenges, including a huge variety of insects, bacteria and fungi that attack important sculptures, paintings, artifacts, photos, documents, records and books.

Experts say climate and insect-induced problems in Venezuela alone has already destroyed an estimated one-third of the country's artistic heritage.

UNU-BIOLAC, focussed on biotechnology in Latin America and the Caribbean, is breaking ground in the region by using DNA and other biotechnologies to identify specific papers, woods and other materials used for various art and other purposes in past centuries in order to devise more effective preservation strategies.

UNU-BIOLAC used DNA sequence technology, for example, to identify insects and bacteria eroding three wood types, including one from a temperate climate, used by colonial-era artists in Venezuela to create a likeness of the Madonna. It is now researching the promise of bacterial toxins (BTtoxin, normally used to create insect-resistant crops) as a biological way to destroy and repel the pests, avoiding the traditional application of invasive technologies that often damage an artwork's colour and structure.

Determining the species of plants and trees used to produce paper and artists' materials long ago is information vital to effective protection and preserv
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Contact: Terry Collins
terrycollins@rogers.com
416-538-8712
United Nations University
3-Nov-2004


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