Ecology and identification of environmental fungi and metabolic processes involved in the biodeterioration of Brazilian soapstone historical monuments

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This study aimed to evaluate the action of organic acids produced by the fungal population associated with the biodeterioration process of the Twelve Prophets of Aleijadinho, a set of soapstone sculptures in Congonhas, state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. For this, samples of fungi were obtained from the surface of each of the 12 outdoor stone sculptures that comprise the set of Prophets. The identification of the colonizing filamentous fungi was performed by classical microbiology and molecular methods. Some species of filamentous fungi-dependent cultivation were detected, and the presence of species Aspergillus versicolor, Curvularia lunata, Epicoccum nigrum, Penicillium citrinum and Pseudocercospora norchiensis indicated a connection with the excretion of organic acids. The acids produced by each of these fungal species were analysed quantitatively by chromatographic methods, revealing potential biodeterioration by the action of acidic metabolites excreted in the stone.

Significance and Impact of the Study:

Minas Gerais, Brazil, is vulnerable to the activities of mineral extraction industries, posing an imminent risk to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized cities, e.g. Congonhas. Many of these municipalities hold many soapstone religious sculptures and historical monuments. Consequently, soapstone is susceptible to filamentous fungi attack causing irreversible biodeterioration. Despite the concern related to nondestructive sampling of 18th century sculptures, in this study, we have discussed the factors that lead to biodeterioration of soapstone due to organic acid excretion by the fungi that damage the stone, thereby providing an insight in conserving and preserving the soapstone monuments.

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