Sunday, May 24, 2009

After 17,000 Years Modern Human pathogens threaten ancient cave art

HISTORIC cave paintings in France partially saved from attack by a black fungus face a new threat: bacteria that moved in following four years of spraying with fungicide.

The Lascaux cave in south-west France houses invaluable animal paintings that are between 16,000 and 17,000 years old, making them among the oldest examples of cave art ever found. Now conservationists must deal with the twin threats of the Fusarium solani fungus and the new bacterial populations.

The latest invasion came to light when a team of Spanish and French microbiologists analysed 11 swabs from the cave walls, comparing the profile of species found in Lascaux with those in undisturbed caves in Spain. Almost all the bacteria and protozoa found in Lascaux were associated with human activity.

"The Lascaux cave is now a reservoir of potential pathogenic bacteria and protozoa similar to those found in disease outbreaks linked to contaminated air-conditioning systems and cooling towers in hospitals and public buildings," says team member Cesareo Saiz-Jimenez of the Spanish Institute of Natural and Agrobiological Research in Seville.

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