On a recent morning, she reclined — like Michelangelo’s allegorical sculptures of Dusk and Dawn above her — and reached into the shadowy nook between the chapel wall and the sarcophagus to point at a dirty black square, a remnant showing just how filthy the marble had become. She attributed the mess to one Medici in particular, Alessandro Medici, a ruler of Florence, whose assassinated corpse had apparently been buried in the tomb without being properly eviscerated. Over the centuries, he seeped into Michelangelo’s marble, the chapel’s experts said, creating deep stains, button-shaped deformations, and, more recently, providing a feast for the chapel’s preferred cleaning product, a bacterium called Serratia ficaria SH7. “SH7 ate Alessandro,” Monica Bietti, former director of the Medici Chapels Museum, said as she stood in front of the now gleaming tomb, surrounded by Michelangelos, dead Medicis, tourists and an all-woman team of scientists, restorers and historians. Her team used bacteria that fed on glue, oil and apparently Alessandro’s phosphates as a bioweapon against centuries of stains.
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