Genomics goes primetime at the CIM Mining Convention

May 16, 2018

The CIM (Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum) convention held in Vancouver May 6-9, 2018 brought together over 5000 participants from the mining industry, with technical presentations across various themes such as rock mechanics, underground mining, and safety among several others. Over the past few years, CIM has included genomics work related to mining in its programming, often through focused genomics or biotechnology sessions. Although this was a great way to get genomics-related work on the radar of the industry, this year was a big step forward in that the presentations featuring genomics were included in the general sessions, several within the environment and sustainable development stream. This shift may signal that applying genomics in the mining sector is becoming more relevant to the mining industry.

Highlights from a few presentations at CIM 2018:

  • DNA Barcoding Approach to Identify Benthic Invertebrates from a Mine Site in Ontario. This presentation outlined a pilot project involving the labs of Drs. Robert Hanner and Sarah Adamowicz at the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario at the University of Guelph, along with Alamos Gold and Stantec, and with funding and support from Ontario Genomics. Operating mines are required to monitor benthic invertebrate species as part of environmental effects monitoring (EEM) under the federal Metal Mining Effluent Regulations. The team compared traditional morphology-based benthic specimen identification with DNA barcoding. The pilot results were promising, showing that the specimens could be accurately identified and found within the DNA barcode library, and that identification was more often possible to the species level using DNA versus genus or family level using traditional methods. The team is now expanding the work to include additional partner companies and sites with a view to improving EEM for mining using DNA-based methods to improve turn-around time for benthic invertebrate results, improve specimen identifications, and provide cost-savings. Mining and environmental consulting companies interested in learning more or jumping onto this collaborative project should contact Dr. Sarah Adamowicz.
  • Bioleaching with Genomics: Optimizing Bioprocesses for Gold Recovery with BacTech Environmental Corp. This presentation summarized an on-going partnership between the lab of Dr. Nadia Mykytczuk at Laurentian University and BacTech Environmental, a partnership initially catalyzed and supported by Ontario Genomics. BacTech’s BACOX bioleaching technology involves microbial consortia for the reclamation of tailings and mine waste materials. The Laurentian lab is using metagenomics and transcriptomics to characterize the microbial cultures and their activities to help inform process optimization at bioleach sites in the future.
  • Update on 3 years of Successful Commissioning and Operation of a Demonstration-Scale Constructed Wetland Treatment System (CWTS) at the Minto Mine, Yukon. This project, from Saskatchewan-based Contango Strategies, is an example of how using genomics helped to inform the development of real-world solutions for the mining industry. Dr. Monique Simair summarized their phased approach to developing a water treatment system from pilot to demonstration scale at a copper mine in the Yukon. The CWTS involves step-wise, engineered systems including vegetation, mosses, and microbial populations to treat selenium and other constituents. In-depth sequencing of the microbial populations informed development of this CWTS, which continues to show positive results towards full-scale implementation at the site in the future.