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

ation of their works.

The research has already attracted strong interest from curators worldwide; UNU-BIOLAC co-hosts the first regional symposium on the topic Nov. 4-5 at Simon Bolivar University and the Institute for Advanced Studies (IDEA) in Caracas: "Cultural Heritage Conservation in Tropical Zones Preventive Conservation, Biotechnology and Education Programs in Conservation."

A new booklet, sponsored by Mercantil Bank Foundation, has been produced in Spanish with an expanded new English edition in progress.

"It is not uncommon for unprotected wooden colonial art in this region to collapse, the sculpture slowly eroded by nature through insects, bacteria and fungus," says scientist Jose Luis Ramirez, Director of UNU-BIOLAC.

"There are millions of bacteria and fungi causing a disaster throughout the developing world. Biotechnology allows us to identify exactly the material used by an artist, the specific pest that has invaded or threatens it, and to customize the preservation treatment required."

Among the historical records under threat are the letters, decorations and archives of "El Liberator," General Simon Bolivar, called the "George Washington of South America." His victories led to independence for Bolivia, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.

Stored in Bolivar's native city of Caracas, "these records are really compromised," said Dr. Ramirez. "Something has to be done soon to save them, by identifying the natural toxin required to kill the insects decaying the papers and artifacts."

Tahia Rivero, curator of the art collection held by the Banco Mercantil Foundation, says many important paintings now are known only through art books. For example, just 13 works remain from the 20-year career of historic 18th century Venezuelan artist Jose Lorenzo Zurita. The rest have been destroyed through decay.

She estimates climate and insect-induced problems in Venezuela alone has destr

Contact: Terry Collins
United Nations University

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