Understanding microbial communities associated with mineral-rich systems may help to reveal new exploration targets.
Characterising microbial communities surrounding ore types
Little is known about the make-up and behaviour of microbial communities within or near ore deposits.
Subtle changes in the environment, such as varying metal concentrations, nutrient availability and the presence of natural aquifers, will affect microbial communities near and within mineral-rich areas.
Understanding microbial communities, linked to mineral rich systems, could provide another approach in the repertoire of mineral exploration tools.
Linking microbes to minerals
We've used our multi-disciplinary expertise in geology and microbiology to begin characterising the microbial species associated with different types of ore deposits.
Analysing core and regolith samples, we have collected data on the bacterial, archaeal (single-celled organisms) and fungal diversity along with associated geology and minerology, in order to build 3D microbiome models.
These 3D models give detailed information about the microbial communities associating with specific minerology which exist deep underground.
Cataloguing and characterising the microbiome at the surface and in deep terrestrial and regolith samples is helping us understand the distinct difference between microbial communities between different types of ore.
This knowledge is helping us build a picture of how microbiomes deep below the surface may create surface features which may suggest the presence of specific ores. By interpreting these proxy markers, new exploration targets may be revealed.
We discovered a gold coated fungi in samples taken near Boddington, Western Australia.
The fungi, Fusarium oxsporum, is commonly found in soils around the world and produces a pink mycelium or "flower".
We found that the thread-like fungi attach gold to their strands by dissolving and precipitating particles from their surroundings.
The gold may also offer a biological advantage, as the gold-coated fungi were found to grow larger and spread faster than those that don't interact with gold and play a central role in a biodiverse soil community.
The discovery of this fungi interacting with gold provides a curious example of how microbial sampling could provide another tool for mineral exploration.