Fungus Emerges as Threat to Historical Film Archives

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British film archivists have a new problem on their hands. Films stored in damp conditions prove to be good eating for microbes. Fungus can use the gelatin on the surface of the film as cinematic agar, happily munching away one-of-a-kind images. While only a small number of the films housed at major film archives are affected by the problem, officials said the problem was growing. Literally.

Cinematographic film has a layer of gelatin on its surface. This emulsion layer is where the image is formed but also provides ideal food for fungi like Aspergillus and Penicillium. If the fungus forms a layer of mould on a film it produces enzymes which allow it to use the film as food and to grow.

So the damage it can cause is irreversible as the mould "eats" the image stored on the film's surface... "It's a kind of newish thing. I've been [at the North WestFilm Archive] for 23 years. This has really only taken up over the last eight to ten years. What might have been perfect six years ago has now been affected by mould."

Read the full story at BBC.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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