Every Monument Needs a Plaque

Usually that plaque is an ornamental tablet to identify and illuminate, but lately the monuments of Washington D.C. have been seeing the other kind–living biofilms that stick to their surfaces and are causing quite a bit of confusion.

The fact is, we know relatively little about many biofilms. They are complex microbiomes made of many different organisms such as fungi, bacteria, algae, etc. They interact with the surfaces they live on and can act as scaffolds for other chemical processes and/or further invasions by subsequent waves of organisms. This, in fact, this is what happens if you don’t keep up with your oral hygiene. Some particularly sticky bacteria get a foothold on your teeth, then others stick to them, then they start building a community, mineralization occurs, and then you have this…

calculus

We still don’t know much about the blackish biofilm appearing on such landmarks as the Jefferson Memorial or the Washington Monument (See also: This article). The coloration might suggest a cyanobacteria component, which would be unfortunate as such biofilms tend to increase both moisture and temperature resulting in increased damage to the underlying surface. Hopefully they are not dissolving the historic marble or causing permanent damage, but we won’t know until they are removed, and that could require chemical, biological, or even laser warfare.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. armanmusaji says:

    Fascinating. I didn’t know that biofilms were a whole scientific realm in and of themselves. Must research further

    Like

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