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DNA sequencing could find hidden mineral deposits


Analysing the DNA of soil microbes can be an effective mineral exploration technique, according to a study by Geoscience British Columbia.

Canada’s Geoscience British Columbia (BC) has proposed that genomic sequencing can be used as a mineral exploration technique.

Geoscience BC generates independent, public geoscience research and data about British Columbia’s minerals, energy and water resources.

Its report – Microbial-community fingerprints as indicators for buried mineralisation in British Columbia – found that using microbiome DNA printing with high throughput sequencing technologies can identify porphyry mineralisation.

A microbiome is the genetic material of a microbe (a very small living organism), with thousands present in every gram of soil.

Geoscience BC demonstrated in its study that analysing the DNA of soil microbes, including several bacterial species, could help pinpoint mineral deposits buried underneath glacial overburden.

The researchers claimed this can reveal more potential indicators of mineralisation than traditional geochemistry.

“Soil microbes are very sensitive and responsive to chemical and physical changes in their environment,” University of British Columbia professor and project co-lead Sean Crowe said.

“Comparing the quantity and species of bacteria found in soil samples collected over ore deposits with soils from other areas can help to zero in on buried mineral deposits.”

Using the DNA sequencing results, the researchers distinguished certain bacterial species that were found above mineralisation and background soils.

According to microbiologist and lead report author Rachel Simister, identifying bacterial species above mineralisation could lead to new discoveries.

“We found that sequence-based anomaly detection is both sensitive and robust, and could go a long way towards helping discover new mineral resources,” she said.

This story originally appeared in Australian Mining.

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