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Discovery of Concealed Kimberlites with Microbial Community Fingerprinting

With the advent of inexpensive modern sequencing technology and big-data techniques, microbiological approaches to exploration are becoming more quantitative, cost effective, and efficient. MDRU and collaborators aim to develop and utilize this technology to recognize desirable rock units buried beneath transported overburden to inform mineral exploration decision-making and discovery.

Project Information

Ore Deposit:
Commodity:
Research Themes:
Location:
Northwest Territories
Project Status:
Researchers:
  • Peter Winterburn
  • Rachel Simister
  • Sean Crowe

Students:
  • Bianca Iulianella Phillips

Mineral exploration in Canada is becoming increasingly complex as the majority of undiscovered commodities are likely deeply buried beneath significant glacial overburden and bedrock, reducing the effectiveness of many existing tools. The development of innovative exploration protocols and techniques is imperative to the continuation of discovery success. Preliminary experimentation has demonstrated the potential viability of microbial fingerprinting through genetic sequencing to directly identify the projected subcrop of mineralization in addition to the more distal entrained geochemical signatures in till. With the advent of inexpensive modern sequencing technology and big-data techniques, microbiological approaches to exploration are becoming more quantitative, cost effective, and efficient. The integration of microbial community information with soil chemistry, mineralogy and landscape development coupled with geology and geophysics propagates the development of an improved decision process in mineral exploration.

Soils over porphyry, kimberlite, and VMS deposits have undergone microbial community profiling. These community-genome derived datasets have been integrated with trace metal chemistry, mineralogy, surface geology and other environmental variables including Eh and pH. Analyses of two kimberlites in the Northwest Territories show significant microbial community shifts that are correlated with subsurface mineralization, with distinctive microbial community profiles present directly above the kimberlite. The relationship between microbial profiles and mineralization leads to the use of microbial fingerprinting as a method for more accurately delineating ore deposits in glacially covered terrain. As databases are developed, there is potential for application as a field based technique, as sequencing technology is progressively developed into portable platforms.

What’s Next?

MDRU are taking this research to the next level, take it global, and are planning to undertake a second phase.  We wish to:

  1. qualify and quantify microbial profiles overlying various kimberlitic bodies and backgrounds;
  2. assess the microbial responses with respect to surface materials, terrain, climate, geochemistry and pysiochemistry;
  3. determine the controlling variables on microbial communities that live above kimberlites;
  4. develop appropriate field methods and applications, particularly for rapid screening.

To do this, we need industry partners and are looking for Expressions of Interest for those wishing to help us develop an industry consortium.  Find out more.  If you are interested, please contact Craig Hart chart@eoas.ubc.ca or Sean Crowe sean.crowe@ubc.ca

 

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