The term “bookworm” may evoke thoughts of a passionate reader, but in reality, bookworms, microorganisms, and time all play a role in breaking down the flour-based glues commonly used in historic bookbinding. Recent research on the proteins found in wheat-based glues provides valuable insights into their adhesiveness and degradation, offering important information for book conservators looking to restore and preserve old books.

Historically, wheat-based glues have been utilized in bookbinding, dating back to Ancient Egypt. These glues are made from the insides of wheat grains, containing gluten that attracts bookworms and microorganisms. In contrast, starch glue is derived from the proteins left behind after the removal of most of the gluten, making it less appealing to pests. The protein profiles of flour and starch glues differ significantly, with flour glue containing a greater number and variety of proteins. Moreover, the proteins in starch glue are noted for their durability and flexibility, which could make them a superior choice for book repairs.

Researchers conducted protein analyses on samples from the National Library of Medicine (NLM) archives to gain a better understanding of the adhesives used in historic bookbinding. By extracting proteins from lab-made versions of flour and starch glues and utilizing mass spectrometry data, they were able to identify the types and abundance of proteins present in the samples. The results confirmed that the adhesives were flour-based due to their gluten content. Furthermore, degraded gluten in the samples indicated potential damage and loss of adhesiveness. The study also highlighted the interplay between the chemical breakdown of leather and glue in a book’s cover, which could contribute to accelerated deterioration.

The findings of this research offer valuable insights for book conservators, signaling the need for repair and preventive measures to avoid further damage or destruction of valuable books. By understanding the protein composition of wheat-based glues and their impact on adhesiveness, conservators can make informed decisions when choosing materials and methods for book restoration. The study underscores the potential of protein analysis in guiding conservation efforts and preserving treasured tomes for future generations.

The analysis of wheat-based glues in historic bookbinding sheds light on the importance of understanding the protein composition of adhesives and their degradation process. This research paves the way for more effective conservation strategies, ultimately safeguarding the rich history contained within old books.


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