Scientists Reveal Cause Of Red Spots Ruining Leonardo Da Vinci’s Self-Portrait

Back in 2012, a team of experts determined that Leonardo da Vinci’s only universally recognized self-portrait was damaged beyond repair, breaking the nerdy little hearts of art history buffs around the world.

The delicate red chalk drawing, created in 1512, was accidentally exposed to sunlight while being framed for an exhibition in 1929, which is believed to have led to what scientists call “foxing” — simply, unwanted marks manifested on the work’s surface.

For years, however, the details of those teeming marks went unknown. Were they the result of oxidized pigment or a developing fungus? Such specifics are not only helpful but crucial for scientists working to prevent the burgeoning mass of little reddish brown spots from completely consuming poor Leonardo’s face.

Well, thanks to a research team led by Guadalupe Pinar at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, we now know that the spots resulted from several species of fungus, as published in Environmental Microbiology Reports. (Yes, these findings are the result of the new “non-destructive and non-invasive diagnostic method” we’ve been waiting for.)

First, scientists extracted DNA from the drawing, then magnified the fungal internal transcribed spacer regions, cloned the recovered fragments and compared the results with the microbial community. While the “non-culturability of the microorganisms inhabiting the portrait” prevented researchers from identifying the exact fungus responsible, they could tell the fungal community was dominated by fungus of the Ascomycota phylum, and particularly a previously uncharacterized Acremonium species.

As described in Discover Magazine: Their electron microscopy efforts revealed a zoo of fungal forms: smooth spheres wrapped in filaments, spiky cells congregating on a mysterious particle, and flattened disks with cross-hatched scars.”

How strange to think that all of these diverse, alien fungal forms appear, —> Read More

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