Improved understating of mine waste weathering and remediation options with microbial community data


Dr Michael Schindler, Dr Nadia Mykytczuk, Mrs Roberta Pedlar Hobbs, Ms Emilia Principe, Ms Nicole Valiquette, Dr Thomas Merritt

Sulfidic mine tailings harbour a diversity of microorganisms within both the oxidized and reduced zones. Undeterred by the conditions of low pH and high metal content, these organisms interact with minerals on a microscopic level and catalyze the oxidation/reduction of parent materials, the formation of secondary minerals, and subsequently affect the transformation and attenuation of metals. In some instances we can promote these microbially driven reactions to help liberate or stabilize target minerals and elements but understanding the role of specific organisms is challenging without high resolution data. By using a combination of genomics and standard geochemical analytical methods, we provide examples how microbial data can help expand our understanding of mine waste weathering from three different sites around Sudbury, Ontario looking at both tailings and waste rock. Using genomics tools we can better tease apart the biologically driven influences on the direction and rate of change in geochemistry and minerology. As computational tools for extensive genomic information are improving, we can streamline the data to provide a complementary assessment tool to help direct management and remediation options.