Taking biomining and bioremediation to the next level
Biomining and bioremediation are one step closer to wider use in the mining industry with the creation of a new position at Laurentian University geared towards commercializing the technologies.
As of July 1, Nadia Mykytczuk is Laurentian University’s first industrial research chair in mining, bioremediation and science communications. Ontario is investing more than $630,000 through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation to create the five-year research chair position.
“It’s less of a teaching load and more research,” said Mykytczuk. “The impetus was to create a vibrant research program and initiate new projects with industry. The research chair matters because we have a very long legacy of mine waste impacts in Canada and the world, and we now have the opportunity to use biotechnology to help decrease those impacts.”
Mykytczuk has been working as a Laurentian researcher in the field since 2012, but the application of biotechnologies to mining is not a new idea.
“These technologies were put in practice 30 years ago, but they’ve struggled with efficacy. Now, molecular technology has advanced to a point where high resolution imaging has improved the understanding of microbial communities,” said Mykytczuk.
Biotechnologies refer to the manipulation of microbial communities for industrial purposes. In the case of mining, the residual minerals in mine waste can act as food for microbial communities. Biomining refers to the extraction of valuable elements from mine waste for economic gain; bioremediation is more about reducing the environmental impact of mining activity.
The scientists working with these technologies 30 years ago were putting this concept to work, but the tools to look at the microbes were not advanced enough to identify specific types or groups. Once that identification was possible, scientists were better able to match specific microbes to specific waste types to optimize outcomes.
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