Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Poison-Eating Bugs Strike Gold

April 28, 1998
CSIRO Australia
Australian scientists have discovered indigenous microbes capable of devouring toxic effluent from gold extraction.

The richness of Australia’s unique biodiversity has been highlighted with the discovery by scientists from CSIRO and BacTech Pty Ltd, a Perth-based mining biotechnology firm, of indigenous microbes capable of devouring toxic effluent from gold extraction.

The discovery could also pave the way for a major advance in “clean green” processing of minerals such as gold, copper, nickel and zinc from sulphide ores.

Dr Peter Franzmann and Mr Matthew Stott of CSIRO Land and Water and CSIRO Minerals have identified several new species of native microbes able to break down the thiocyanate formed from the cyanide used to extract gold.

The project is funded by the Western Australian Government through its WA Innovation Support Scheme (WAISS), which fosters small innovative enterprises in the State.

Their discovery has led to the development of a process for cleansing the waste streams from inland gold mines, where clean water is often a scarce and costly commodity. Based on a process used by the Homestake mine in the United States, this system uses uniquely Australian organisms adapted to the local conditions.

“We found these bacteria thriving in the tailings ponds of a gold mine in the Western Australian goldfields,” Dr Franzmann explains.

Part of the project is to develop a modified bioreactor to process the mine effluent which better suits the local microbes and the specific degradation process.

“We have put them to work in a new system for purifying the waste water, and so far they have managed to reduce the concentration of toxin in the waste-stream 15-fold,” he says.

“If we can fine-tune the process a bit more, it will make the water completely re-usable by mines that bioleach refractory ores prior to cyanide gold extraction. Quality water is scarce in WA’s gold-producing regions - and any technology which allows us to recycle it will benefit both the industry and the environment.”

Dr Franzmann says the discovery highlights the remarkable range and diversity of Australian lifeforms. These bacteria apparently thrive in toxic, salty environments in which few other aquatic animals and plants can survive.

The metabolic versatility of bacteria, which carry out most of the “environmental services” in cleaning up the contaminants, can be harnessed in engineered situations to degrade and detoxify waste effluents.

“Using molecular biology techniques, Mr Stott has found that these microbes’ closest relatives are probably the kinds of bacteria which are found in the depths of the ocean, feeding off the mineral-rich streams from hydrothermal vents in the sea-floor. But these ones are from the surface, and are completely new to science.”

Scientists now think Australia harbours a multitude of poison-munching microbes, which could be used to render harmless a wide range of industrial and other forms of pollution, and so protect our rivers, lakes, wetlands and groundwater.

But according to Program Leader Dr Martin Houchin of CSIRO Minerals the technology may deliver an even more significant advance -- a purely biological way to extract minerals, especially gold, from sulphide ores.

“At the moment we can use bacteria to bio-oxidise certain gold ores, to open them up so the gold can be leached out conventionally using cyanide,” he says.

“However the potential is there to use bacteria to biologically produce a leaching agent for extracting the gold, resulting in a fully biological process.”

The result would not only be a new clean, green way to extract gold but also a process which promises to be cheaper for producers, making Australian gold more internationally competitive.

In this way, the team hopes, Australia’s unique biological diversity may help to give our minerals industry both an economic and an environmental edge over the world.

More information:

Dr Peter Franzmann, CSIRO Land and Water
08 9333 6306
Email: p.franzmann@per.dwr.csiro.au

Dr Martin Houchin, CSIRO Minerals
08 9334 8090

Ms Margaret Bryant, CSIRO Land and Water
08 9333 6215

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by CSIRO Australia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Cite This Page:

CSIRO Australia. "Poison-Eating Bugs Strike Gold." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 April 1998. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/04/980428035128.htm>.
CSIRO Australia. (1998, April 28). Poison-Eating Bugs Strike Gold. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/04/980428035128.htm
CSIRO Australia. "Poison-Eating Bugs Strike Gold." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/04/980428035128.htm (accessed September 19, 2014).

Share This

More Earth & Climate News

Friday, September 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Wildfires in CA Burn Forest Asunder

Raw: Wildfires in CA Burn Forest Asunder

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) An out-of-control Northern California wildfire has nearly 2,800 people from their homes as it continues to grow, authorities said Thursday. Authorities said a man has been arrested on suspicion of arson for starting the fire on Saturday. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) Grand the elephant has successfully undergone surgery to remove a portion of infected tusk at Tbilisi Zoo in Georgia. British veterinary surgeons used an electric drill to extract the infected piece. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Squid experts in New Zealand thawed and examined an unusual catch on Tuesday: a colossal squid. It was captured in Antarctica's remote Ross Sea in December last year and has been frozen for eight months. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Floats for 31 Hours in Gulf Waters

Man Floats for 31 Hours in Gulf Waters

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) A Texas man is lucky to be alive after he and three others floated for more than a day in the Gulf of Mexico when their boat sank during a fishing trip. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.


Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News


Free Subscriptions

Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile

Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?

Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins