It has been almost a year since our Mining Microbiome Theme launched with their webinar: Biotechnology for Exploration, Extraction, and Remediation and they have have been busy.
One of their main projects for the year has been setting up a new laboratory space open to all theme members to help facilitate collaborative research. Dr. Bruce Marshall has played a key role in developing this space and written an introduction to the laboratory space, who will be using it, and an overview of their goals.
The Mining Microbiome is centered upon the idea of using microorganisms to facilitate advances in mineral exploration, increase efficiencies in mineral processing, and to help the efficacy of mitigation strategies aimed at reducing environmental impacts associated with mining activities. The BRIMM Mining Microbiome sphere envisions itself as a global leader in microbial biotechnology research, training, and knowledge translation for the mining and minerals sector in order to benefit both society and the environment.
In order to foster collaboration and develop new UBC expertise in the Mining Microbiome field under the BRIMM umbrella, it is important to establish a center where multiple teams can conduct research using shared equipment. This not only elevates the exposure of microbiome research in mining engineering, but also increases the BRIMM footprint on campus. In the Coal and Mineral Processing Laboratory (CMP) at UBC, as part of the Mining Engineering Department, an area of Room 304 of the CMP has been set aside for inception of the BRIMM Mining Microbiome Laboratory.
In total, approximately $70,000 has recently been spent on the purchase of new equipment for the lab, which includes an autoclave, nano-spectrophotometer, -80 freezer, microbiological incubator, and an orbital shaker; all necessary items for successful elaboration of microbiological experiments. At the same time, we also generously received two donated pieces of semi-new equipment from Teck; namely an anaerobic chamber and a biological safety cabinet. Through a Research Support Facility Grant that was awarded in October, 2020, Dr. Bruce Marshall was put in charge of orchestrating the purchase of new equipment and receiving the donated pieces, as well as setting up everything in the lab. As of June, 2021, the Mining Microbiome Laboratory is now ready to go, which will serve as a viable, multi-user space for researchers to develop proof-of-concept lab and pilot-scale ideas.
Across the UBC Campus, there are currently more than 11 researchers in 6 departments across both Science and Applied Science conducting multiple projects affiliated with the BRIMM Mining Microbiome, ranging from classifying certain microorganisms as sensors for concealed mineral deposits, to reducing the environmental footprint and carbon intensity of mining operations using industrial biotechnology, to machine learning for prediction of water pollution from mine waste, and many more (see https://brimm.ubc.ca/directory/).
For the following Principal Investigators, the opening up of the BRIMM Mining Microbiome Laboratory at the CMP will greatly facilitate development of analytical experiments to support both existing and new industry partnerships:
Dr. Sue Baldwin: Professor in Chemical and Biological Engineering; working on harnessing the power of mineral-microbiome metagenomics for next generation mining, mineral processing and environmental management, including the development of microbially-based technologies for the treatment of mine-generated contaminants (currently has some Teck sponsorship); Dr. Vikramaditya Yadav: Associate Professor in Chemical and Biological Engineering; developing unique bioremediation strategies to rehabilitate the water quality in and around mining sites and industrial zones; Dr. Scott Dunbar: Professor in Mining Engineering; studying the application of green biochemistry for the development of new mineral processing reagents; Dr. Marek Pawlik: Professor in Mining Engineering; interested in applying biotechnology for increased efficiencies in mineral separation, including bioleaching using microbial communities; Dr. Wenying Liu: Associate Professor in Materials Engineering; working on developing biomarkers as performance indicators that link microbial functions and environmental conditions, such as arsenic concentration (BRIMM and NSERC sponsorship).
Dr. Marshall, who teaches in the Dept. of Mining Engineering as a sessional lecturer, has been collaborating with Dr. Yadav and his students for the past 2 years to develop a project aimed at using microbial electrolysis cell technology to precipitate copper and other metals from acid mine drainage. In addition, Dr. Marshall was an integral participant in a series of strategy planning workshops co-facilitated by Hemmera Envirochem Inc. from September to December/2019 to articulate the Mining Microbiome Team’s Vision and Approach, identify key research concepts for this Target Impact Area, and recognize potential industry partners with which to develop relationships and strategy. This series of workshops then led to development of a Strategic Plan, which identified several priority actions to support the advancement of BRIMM’s Mining Microbiome vision and goals.
One of the goals that was established through the workshops and delineation of the Strategic Plan was the importance of advancing holistic research in microbial biotechnology to integrate discoveries from the laboratory and the field. In order to achieve this goal and also promote synergistic collaborations among multidisciplinary research teams, it was imperative that the BRIMM Mining Microbiome Laboratory be equipped with both equipment and research support staff necessary to ensure the continued success of the Initiative.
In addition, the establishment of a multi-user research space for the BRIMM Mining Microbiome will serve as a centralized hub for researchers to meet with interested industry partners to showcase the results of analytical experiments and facilitate discussions on how to move forward with bi-lateral partnerships. Furthermore, this laboratory will be integral in helping train the next generation of highly qualified multidisciplinary professionals, namely UBC’s undergraduate and graduate students, which is one of the key points outlined in Dr. Peter Bradshaw’s visionary mission statement for BRIMM.