Research projects

Major research grants

  • 2010 – 15 ARC Discovery Project and ARF Fellowship to Reith et al., The geomicrobiology and (bio)geochemistry of platinum, palladium and rhodium; Feb 2010 – March 2015. Platinum, palladium and rhodium are extremely rare precious metals, which are widely used in the petroleum- and automotive industries. This project aims to establish the fundamental understanding of (bio)geochemical and geomicrobial processes leading to the dispersion and accumulation of these metals in soils, sediments and biota overlying mineralisation. Hence, the project provides data required for successful exploration in Australia. In addition, it also provides critical data for environmental and health risk assessments by establishing biogeochemical transformation pathways of highly reactive Pt-, Pd- and Rh particles emitted from catalytic converters.
  • 2011 – 14 ARC Linkage Project to Reith et al.; Development of Biosensors and Bio-indicators for gold exploration and processing in Australia;Nov. 2010- Nov. 2014. Metal-resistant bacteria thriving in gold-bearing zones use specific genetic and biochemical mechanisms to control gold mobility, precipitation and biomineralisation. Using state-of-the-art transcriptomic and proteomic approaches allows us to characterise the genes and proteins involved, and construct revolutionary new gold-specific biosensors for in-field gold quantification with sub-ppb sensitivity. In combination with novel (micro)-analytical techniques and field- and geochemical studies, we will create the mechanistic understanding of gold distribution and speciation in solution and solid materials enabling mineral explorers to extract, detect and quantify Au in sample materials in the field utilising the biosensor technology.
  • 2007 – 14 Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) to Nies, Grosse and Reith; Bacterial interaction with precious metals – Interaktion zwischen Bakterien und Edelmetallen; Nov. 2007 – Nov. 2014) (The precious metals gold, silver and copper occur in their ionic oxidation states {Au(III), Au(I), Ag(I), Cu(II), Cu(I)} and as free metals in bacterial environments. Understanding bacterial transformations of these metals and ions will shed light on a range of processes such as the supergene formation of secondary minerals and the killing of pathogenic bacteria on metallic copper surfaces. The metal resistant bacterium C. metallidurans seems to catalyse formation of gold particles by active biochemical processes. Copper-specific factors (Cop) may be involved in these reactions. In the proposed project we will evaluate the gold-specific reactions catalysed by individual Cop factors. By doing so, we will also learn from gold-specific reactions more about copper detoxification in this bacterium, because gold has no micronutrient function in cells and is primarily speciated as Au(I) or metallic gold in the periplasm. On the other hand, mutant strains of E. coli will be used as test systems to study the physiological function of Cop factors, and this will yield insights into the interaction of E. coli with Cu(II), Cu(I) and metallic copper.
  • 2007 – 10 ARC Linkage Project APDI Fellowship to Reith (APDI) and Brugger et al.; The geomicrobiology of gold; Bacterial mechanisms of gold mobilisation and precipitation with applications to mineral processing and exploration; Feb 2007 Jan 2010. Microorganisms living in Australian soils mediate the dispersion and concentration of gold close to mineralisation. However, the organisms responsible, the physiological and biochemical mechanisms involved, the solubilisation and precipitation kinetics, and the nature of the transported gold are unknown. By identifying these organisms and the physiological and biogeochemical processes involved using novel analytical techniques and molecular biology approaches we will create a quantitative understanding of biogeochemical cycling of gold, which may facilitate the construction of sensitive biosensors specific to gold that can be used for mineral exploration, and the development of ore-processing techniques using microorganisms.