When it comes to Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings, there’s more than meets the eye.
The famed Mona Lisa artist’s works are teeming with an array of microbes that researchers say provide an invisible glimpse into the past.
A team of experts recently analyzed seven different da Vinci drawings using a DNA and RNA sequencing technique called Nanopore to reveal the microbiome, or genetic material, lurking on the artwork.
They were shocked to find the presence of more bacteria than fungi, which is typically found in paper-based art. The traces of bacteria likely originate from people handling the centuries-old art and fly droppings, the scientists said.
Human DNA was also recovered, although it is thought to have come from restoration workers over the years and not the Italian artist himself.
Some of the bacteria and fungi were also linked to geographical location — specifically Rome or Turin, the experts said.
The research, conducted by the University of Natural Resources and Life Science and the University of Applied Science of Wien in Austria, as well as the Central Institute for the Pathology of Archives and Books in Italy, was published last week in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.
Five of the drawings analyzed are housed in the Royal Library of Turin and two are at the Corsinian Library in Rome.
Dr. Guadalupe Pinar, one of the authors of the study, said the findings could help tell the hidden story behind other pieces of art.
“The sensitivity of the Nanopore sequencing method offers a great tool for the monitoring of objects of art,” she said in a news release.
“It allows the assessment of the microbiomes and the visualization of its variations due to detrimental situations. This can be used as a bio-archive of the objects’ history, providing a kind of fingerprint for current and future comparisons.”