PERTH (miningweekly.com) – Australian scientists have discovered a potentially new way of exploring for platinum, after linking specialist bacterial communities found in biofilms on the grains of platinum-group metals (PGMs) at three separate locations around the world.
Senior lecturer at the University of Adelaide, Dr Frank Reith, explained this week that finding new deposits of PGMs was becoming increasingly difficult owing to a limited understanding of the processes that affected the way they were cycled through surface environments.
“This research reveals the key role of bacteria in these processes. This improved bio geochemical understanding is not only important from a scientific perspective, but we hope will also lead to new and better ways of exploring for these metals,” Reith said.
“One of the difficulties with finding deposits of platinum is that we need to understand the exploration signals that we get and we don’t know exactly how platinum travels in earth surface environments and what the mechanisms are that are involved.
“What we were trying to understand in this study is that biological mechanisms can be involved in the transformation of that platinum in certain environments.”
Reith said the research could allow the development of a different style of exploration using biological entities and a technique known as next generation sequencing.
He added that searching for specific micro-organisms associated with PGMs could lead exploration companies directly to new deposits under the surface.
“It is very similar to when police look for a suspect. They find a cigarette butt somewhere and extract the DNA and then they get a fingerprint and they can match it to the suspect. In very simple terms we can do the same with microbial communities in soil sediments,” Reith said.
“If there’s interest from industry we can then extend that research into finding tools for exploration.”
The research was conducted by groups from Monash University, Mineral Resources Tasmania, the University of Queensland, the University of Western Australia, RMIT, and the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources in Germany.
The study investigated platinum-group elements from Brazil, Colombia and Tasmania.