The future of biotechnology for gold exploration and processing
Carla M. Zammit, Nigel Cook, Joël Brugger, Cristiana L. Ciobanu, Frank Reitha
The role of biological agents in the mining industry is currently limited to the use of microorganisms in bioleaching and bioremediation. However, there are a number of ways in which biotechnology will be used in the near future to aid the mining industry. This review focuses on the development of novel biotechnologies and the role they will play in gold exploration, processing and remediation. The development of these biotechnologies has been enabled by advances in our molecular-level understanding of the role microorganisms play in the solubilisation, dispersion and precipitation of gold, brought upon by the rapid development of molecular genetic techniques over the past decade. This fundamental knowledge is now being used to develop new methods for gold exploration, processing and remediation. An understanding of the distribution of microbial species in soils overlying mineralisation can be utilised to develop bioindicator systems that assist with gold exploration. An in-depth knowledge of how microorganisms interact with gold complexes is being used to develop biosensors, further supporting exploration. Processing technologies are being improved based upon advances in our understanding of the interactions between microorganisms, cyanide and gold. For instance, cyanide-producing microorganisms are being investigated for use in situ leaching of gold. In turn, the use of cyanide-utilising microorganisms for the degradation of cyanide is being explored. Combined the implementation of biotechnologies in the gold mining sector is set to revolutionise the industry, leading to the greener, more efficient extraction of gold.