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Geoscience BC uses bacterial DNA to help guide mineral exploration

by Greg Klein | August 27, 2020

Imagine that—tens of thousands of bacterial species teeming in every little gram of soil. It might take even greater imagination to see opportunity therein. But ever-innovative Geoscience BC has found ways to analyze the bacteria’s DNA for clues about possible underlying deposits.

That’s the topic of the non-profit society’s newly released report, Microbial-Community Fingerprints as Indicators for Buried Mineralization in British Columbia. The findings can point to deposits covered by glacial overburden, a particular challenge for exploration in much of the province.

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

Researchers came from three UBC departments: Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences; Microbiology and Immunology; and the Mineral Deposit Research Unit. They collected samples surrounding two copper porphyry deposits in south-central B.C.: Consolidated Woodjam Copper’s (TSXV:WCC) Deerhorn copper-gold deposit near Williams Lake and Teck Resources’ (TSX:TECK.A/TSX:TECK.B) Highmont South copper-molybdenite deposit near Kamloops.

“By combining the results of high-throughput DNA sequencing with geomicrobiological knowledge, the researchers identified groups of indicator bacterial species that help distinguish soils above mineralization from background soils,” Geoscience BC stated.

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

Geoscience BC VP of minerals Christa Pellett added, “This project is a good example of Geoscience BC supporting the application of innovative technologies for mineral exploration, and confirms the potential for using genomic sequencing as a tool to identify mineral deposits beneath glacial sediments.”

Work on the project continued despite the passing of co-leader Peter Winterburn, whom Geoscience BC acknowledged for his “valuable and lasting legacy.”

The non-profit society uses a number of leading-edge approaches to study B.C.’s mineral, energy and water resources. Information published in the public domain helps industry, government and communities make resource-based decisions. Last month Geoscience BC asked explorers in the Golden Triangle region to contribute geophysical findings for a public dataset.

Read more about the genome sequencing project.

Read about the collaboration between Geoscience BC and the B.C. Geological Survey.

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