Microbiota and biochemical processes involved in biodeterioration of cultural heritage and protection

Ji Dong Gu*, Yoko Katayama

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The world cultural heritage sites face new challenges for an effective protection and management because of destruction and damage initiated by both natural and anthropogenic causes. Fresh rock and sandstone surfaces of buildings are quickly colonized and covered by a layer of microorganisms, including phototrophs, lithotrophs, and heterotrophs to form a biofilm that alters the local conditions of the stone surfaces, especially under the favorable tropical climate conditions for autotrophic microorganisms and plants. Biofilms had been studied with indigenous or pure cultures of isolated microorganisms, but the selective ones that contribute to deterioration of the cultural heritage cannot be confirmed easily. Currently, highthroughput sequencing and metegenomics analyses are capable of obtaining microbial community and composition in great depth, but they also suffer from similar weakness unable to identify the culprits in the community. With these as background, this article presents a different approach by focusing on the biochemical processes and the responsible microorganisms involved to reveal the destruction processes for management and protection. Among these different functional groups of microorganisms, lichens are known as pioneering rock-decomposing microorganisms, and both sulfur-oxidizing bacteria and fungi participate in the decomposition of sandstone via sulfur cycling and initiation of salt attack of the stone afterward, resulting in defoliation and cracking of stone. Other microorganisms including ammonia-oxidizing bacteria and archaea, especially the latter, have been recently detected on sandstone monuments providing evidence on the new organisms involved in the deterioration of cultural heritage and buildings. In addition, fungi can colonize the surfaces of the matured biofilms and play a new role in the removal of them, which has a potential biotechnological application in conservation of cultural heritage. The new proposed approach by focusing the microorganisms with identified biochemical function is more productive than a description of the community composition and assembly when assessing cultural heritage biodeterioration, and this provides basic and useful information for effective protection strategies and management.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMicroorganisms in the Deterioration and Preservation of Cultural Heritage
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9783030694111
ISBN (Print)9783030694104
StatePublished - 5 May 2021


  • Ammonia-oxidizing
  • Biodeterioration
  • Biofilms
  • Defoliation
  • Monuments
  • Salt attack
  • Sandstone
  • Sulfur-oxidizing


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