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Microbiology of an industrial-scale chalcocite heap bioleaching operation

Hawkes, R.B., Franzmann, P.D. and Plumb, J.J. (2004) Microbiology of an industrial-scale chalcocite heap bioleaching operation. In: Bac-Min 2004 Conference, 8 - 10 November, Bendigo, VIC, Australia pp. 11-17.


A study was conducted to describe the microbiology of the MICCL Monywa chalcocite heap bioleaching operation. Microorganisms were detected in the heap using culture-based techniques and culture-independent PCR-DGGE analysis of the 16S rRNA gene. The metabolic requirements, temperature and pH optima were determined for selected strains isolated from the heap material. Six strains (BH1-BH6) were enriched and isolated from heap solids and leachate samples. Phylogenetic analysis of the 16S rRNA genes showed that strains BH3 and BH4 were closely related to the acidophilic bacterium Acidilhiobacillus caldus and strains BH5 and BH6 were closely related to Leptospirillum ferriphilum. The optimum growth temperature, for L. ferriphilum was 41.3°C and the optimum pH range was 1.1 to 1.5. A new species of Archaea was isolated from the heap samples. Cells of the proposed species, Ferroplasma cyprexacervatum ('cyprus' L.n. meaning copper; 'exacervo' L.v. meaning 'to heap up'), are non-motile pleomorphic cocci, capable of chemomixotrophic growth with ferrous sulfate and yeast extract. Cells grow anaerobically on ferric iron in the presence of potassium tetrathionate and yeast extract as electron donors. Growth occurs from 14°C to 63°C, with an optimum temperature of 55.2°C. The optimal pH for growth was 1.0-1.2. The species was phylogenetically most closely related to Ferroplasma acidiphilum with a 16S rRNA gene sequence similarity of 95 per cent. Molecular analysis of mine samples (16S rRNA PCR-DGGE) detected the above-mentioned cultured strains of microorganisms as well as species of Sulfobacillus and other unknown Proteobacteria. The microbial community of the Myanmar bioleach heaps contained similar levels of diversity to a dump bioleach operation in Chile, but contained greater amounts of biomass than another heap bioleach operation in Australia. The operating parameters of the Myanmar heaps (low pH and moderate temperature) have, selected for the growth of moderately thermophilic microorganisms that are more, commonly found in extremely low pH acidic mine drainage sites than in heap systems. The novel species of Ferroplasma is thought to be involved in the aerobic and anaerobic cycling of iron within the. heap bioleaching environment.

Item Type: Conference Paper
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology
Publisher: Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
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