A Polysaccharide Extracted From Sphagnum Moss as Antifungal Agent in Archaeological Conservation

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Zaitseva, Nina
Sphagnum Moss , Polysaccharides , Sphagnan , Preservative Agents , Art Conservation , Antifungal Effect , Archaeology , Arctic , Conservation Waxes
On the basis of the well-known preservative properties of Sphagnum moss, a potential opportunity to use moss polysaccharides (Sphagnan) in art conservation was tested. Polysaccharides were extracted from the moss (S. palustre spp.) in the amount of 4.1% of the Sphagnum plant dry weight. All lignocelluloses were removed from this extract as a result of the treatment of the moss cellulose with sodium chlorite. The extracted polysaccharide possessed a strong acidic reaction (pH 2.8) and was soluble in water and organic solvents. The extract was tested on laboratory bacterial cultures by the disk-diffusion method. The antibacterial effect was demonstrated for E. coli and P. aeruginosa (both gram-negative) while Staphylococcus aurelus (gram-positive) was shown to be insensitive to Sphagnum polysaccharides. The antifungal effect of Sphagnum extract was tested by the disk-diffusion method on the spores of seventeen fungal species. These fungi were isolated from ethnographic museum objects and from archaeological objects excavated in the Arctic. Twelve of these isolates appeared susceptible to the extract. The inhibiting effect of the extract was also tested by the modified broth-dilution method on the most typical isolate (Aspergillus spp.). In this experiment, in one ml of the nutritious broth, 40µl of 3% solution of polysaccharides in water killed 10,000 fungal spores in 6 hours. The inhibiting effect was not connected to the acidity or osmotic effect of Sphagnum polysaccharides. As an example of the application of Sphagnum polysaccharides in art conservation, they were added as preservative agents to conservation waxes. After three weeks of exposure of microcrystalline wax to test fungi (Aspergillus spp.), 44% of wax was consumed. When, however, ~ 0.1% (w/w) of Sphagnum extract was mixed with wax, the weight loss of wax was only 4% in the same time interval. On the basis of this study it was concluded that Sphagnum moss and Sphagnum products can be recommended for use in art conservation as antifungal agents.
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