By nature, geomicrobiology is highly multidisciplinary and aims to provide an interface between biologists, geologists and chemists. It aims to develop the interest of molecular biologist and biochemists in topics relevant for geologists and geochemists. Therefore, Reith has established a strong longstanding interdisciplinary network of collaborations with a wide range of Australia-based and international researchers at universities, state and federal research organisations and industry. This is vital to allow access to state-of-the art-methods and instruments in order to perform best practise research.
Currant key-collaborations include:
• Geomicrobiology: Prof. G. Southam, Dr. C. Zammit, Dr. J. Shuster (University of Queensland) an ARC funded collaborative project titled: The biogeochemical cycling of gold: Development of innovative strategies in exploration, is currently underway to understand the transformation of gold in secondary environments; a range of highly cited manuscripts have resulted from this collaboration. A further project assessing the mobilisation of gold in supergene environments will be submitted in the ARC discovery round for 2015. An ARC funded discovery project titled: Biogeochemical drivers of uranium isotope fractionation in regolith and groundwater is currently underway in collaboration with Dr. ‘Bear’ McPhail (The Australian National University) and Dr. J. Moreau (University of Melbourne) to assess biological influences on uranium cycling in arid Australia with respect to improving recovery from in situ leaching operations.
• Synchrotron radiation: Synchrotron radiation offers exciting new opportunities for the study of microorganisms and biominerals, enabling the simultaneous acquisition of compositional and speciation information. An ongoing strong collaboration exists with Prof. Joel Brugger and Dr. Barbara Etschmann (Monash University). In collaborative projects the distribution and speciation of gold/platinum/uranium in cells, biominerals and organic sediments is assessed.
• Analytical chemistry: In a key collaboration with A Prof. C. Lenehan a method to measure the speciation with of gold in surface aqueous solution was developed this has led to new models to understand gold mobility in solutions; ongoing research and ARC projects applications are currently underway/in preparation. Strong collaborations also exist with Prof. J. Fein’s group (University of Notre Dame, USA), Dr. J. Kenney (University College London, UK) and Dr. J. Kirby’s group at CSIRO Land and Water (Adelaide), Adelaide Microscopy, and the Australian Microscopy and Microanalysis facility (AMMRF) in Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane exist to assess various aspects of gold and platinum (bio)geochemistry
• Geology and geochemistry: A range of collaborations with leading economic geologists and geochemists have been established and provide expertise of and access to field areas and samples for the geomicrobiology of gold and platinum projects, these include: Prof. D. Craw and Dr. D.M. Falconer (University of Otago, New Zealand), where in a current Marsden grant collaborative research is underway to assess the formation of secondary gold in southern New Zealand. In a project with Prof. Robert Chapman (Leeds University) the transformation of gold grains in England, Scotland and Ireland are being assessed. A strong collaboration exists between Reith and Dr. S. Hill (Director, Geological Survey of South Australia) to combine their biogeochemical exploration using plant materials with geomicrobial approaches developed. A collaborative project with Prof J. Greenough from the University of British Columbia led to the development of an LA-ICP MS method specific for trace metals in gold and a very well received poster at Canadian Geological Convention with a research paper to follow. Collaboration with Prof P. Shand (CSIRO Land and Water) is ongoing to study gold geochemistry and modelling of gold in surface environments as well as on the geomicrobiology of saline and acid sulfate soil environments. Collaborative links and projects have also been established/conducted with Dr. R. Botrill (Geological Survey of Tasmania), Dr. Trevor Beardsmore (Geological Survey of Western Australia), and Dr. Robert Hough (CSIRO).
• Microbial Ecology: Strong collaborative links have been established with Bioplatforms Australia, who facilities the Biomes of Australian Soil (BASE) project as well as with researchers of the 20+ organisations supporting this project. Especially the collaboration with Prof. A Young and Dr. A. Bisset (CSIRO Plant Industry, Canberra), who lead the project BASE project provides ongoing bioinformatics support for a range of subsequent projects. Collaborative research with Dr. Steven Wakelin (AgResearch, New Zealand) is underway to characterise microbial communities on gold and platinum nuggets and at mine sites. Collaborative projects with Dr. Gary Andersen (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Berkeley, USA) Prof. J Zhou (University of Oklahoma) using their Phylochip and Geochip microarrays, respectively, have led to a exciting research outputs. A recent collaboration with Prof. T.E. dela Cruz, University of Santo Tomas, The Philippines, is underway to understand gold neoformation in different climatic and geological conditions in the Philippines; a jointly supervised PhD is commenced her project in Nov. 2014.
• Molecular Biology: A long-standing highly successful collaboration exists with Prof. D.H. Nies and Dr C. Grosse (University of Halle-Wittenberg, Germany). In a number of back-to-back ARC and DFG funded research projects molecular tools are used to understand how bacteria react to toxic gold complexed. Several students were jointly supervised and the collaboration resulted in a range of highly cited papers.
• Proteomics: In recent years a strong ongoing collaboration was established with AProf. P. Hoffman and Dr Fl. Weiland (Adelaide Proteomics Centre, University of Adelaide), during this collaboration proteins involved in gold binging in bacteria were discovered and characterised, with the perspective to build a protein-based biosensor for gold exploration; a joined patent application on a gold biosensor is currently in submission.
• Biotechnology: The fundamental understanding of gold and platinum geomicrobiology established by Reith and his group have led to collaboration with Prof J. Shapter (Flinders University) and Prof. A. Ball (RMIT University) aimed at developing tools and techniques for exploration, so will a methods be developed that are based on the gold-binding proteins discovered, which will be able to measure gold in aqueous solutions in the field using surface plasmon resonance
• Mineralogy: Mineralogical characterisation of minerals can provide answers about the formation histories of biominerals, e.g. neoformed gold nuggets and carbonates. Hence, collaboration with Prof. A. Pring (Flinders University), and with Dr. G.Nolze at the German Materials Research Institute (BAM, Germany) was led to joined experimentation on the mineralogy of newly forming gold and regolith carbonates.
• Hydrogeochemistry: Gold is highly mobile in surface and groundwaters, Dr. D. Gray and R.R.P.Noble expertise lies in the field sampling, micro-analyses analyses and modelling of gold in these solutions this has led to joined field and laboratory work.
• Ecotoxicology: As gold complexes are highly toxic to microorganisms as well as higher organism, collaboration with Dr. A. Kumar’s groups (CSIRO Land and Water), Prof. E. Lombi and Dr E. Donner are ongoing to assess the reactions of organisms to toxic mobile gold. For instance experiments on influences of gold complexes and nano-particles on soil microbial communities are currently underway.
• Industry: The Reith laboratory aims to act as a one-point ‘shopping centre’ for experimental projects of relevance for the mining industry. A range of successful projects have been conducted with two major gold mining companies (Newmont and Barrick Gold) in the recent ten years that have led to the development of biosensor, bioindicator and bio-processing applications. Other highly valued industry collaborations on various aspects of gold and platinum exploration and mining are ongoing with AngloGold, Rimfire Mining Pty. Ltd. (Melbourne), V. E. Hoffmann, Goldwelten GmbH (Germany), Holcim GmBH (Germany), Dr. M. Schade, Goldmuseum Theuern ( Germany), AMIRA International, John Parsons Prophet Gold Mine (Kilkivan, Queensland), Pierre-Alain Wülser (AUSTRALP SARL), Kai J. Rantanen and colleagues of the Gold Prospectors Association of Finnish Lapland ( Finland) as well as with Dr. Andreas Schmidt Mumm (Saudi ARAMCO, Saudi Arabia)