Miners using microbes – by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – May 6, 2014)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

The marriage of life sciences and mining goes back 2,000 years and yet it’s a relatively new relationship. Miners in 20 A.D. used microorganisms in the Red River to dissolve and separate copper from copper sulphate, and mining companies in Sudbury today use similar bacteria in bioremediation projects.

But it’s an inexact science that could be improved upon, and progress toward that end is expected to be made today (Tuesday) at the Life Sciences and Mining Workshop at the Vale Living With Lakes Centre.

Dr. Mark Poznansky, president and chief executive officer of the Ontario Genomics Institute, which is hosting the workshop, said the goal is for his institute to better understand the challenges of the mining industry. Some of the solutions to those problems may be found in life sciences.

Miners around the world are using microbes to clean up tailings to increase the yield of whatever they are mining. Microbes are being used in bioremediation, natural and through human interaction, said Poznansky, pointing to the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, where he said as much as 80% of the cleanup was done without human intervention.

Genomics, biotechnology concerned with applying the techniques of genetics and molecular biology to the genetic mapping and DNA sequencing of sets of genes, will allow us to better understand those microbes and even manipulate them, said Poznansky.

That will give us the potential “to be much more specific and almost instruct the microbes to help the miner do their work” more efficiently in bio-leaching and bio-mining,” he said.

If companies are able to increase their yield using microbes whose workings they don’t understand, “can you imagine how much more effective that would be if (they) understood exactly what the microbes were doing and which microbes were doing the work?”

Almost 50 people — half from business and half academics — are registered for the workshop.

Poznansky said workshop topics are exciting because they address both environmental and economic issues. There will be breakout sessions after presentations and it is hoped collaborations will be formed between the institute and researchers and industry.

For the original version of this article, click here: http://www.thesudburystar.com/2014/05/05/miners-using-microbes

 

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