Kilkivan Prophet Gold Mine researching growing gold
WIDE BAY is not thought of as a major player in scientific endeavour, but a gold formation study at John Parsons' Kilkivan Prophet Gold Mine is quickly changing that.
Mr Parsons' tourist venture on Rossmore Rd in Kilkivan is the epicentre of groundbreaking scientific research, which on Tuesday reached another major milestone in seeking to prove bacteria can grow gold.
An optimistic Mr Parsons was joined by Dr Frank Reith, a geo-microbiologist from the University of Adelaide, his wife Tina, University of Queensland professor Gordon Southam and postdoctoral research fellow Jeremiah Shuster in "harvesting" an experiment set up back in mid-2013.
The experiment aims to recreate in nature a theory micro-organisms play a role in the formation and concentration of gold particles and nuggets.
It is a theory that has been observed in Mr Parsons' very own 20-year-old mining tailings; though the natural process could take a long time before the mining tourist operator could consider himself sitting on a small fortune.
The complicated processes going on are best understood by thinking of the bacteria involved in much the same way as marine organisms building coral reefs.
Micro-organisms exist in extreme environments and have the ability to take toxic gold compounds and break them down for survival, excreting gold in the process.
The applications of this understanding stand to drastically alter the mining industry if accelerated by human intervention.
Previously discarded mining tailings could soon be seen as an asset, not a liability, with the ability to harness the natural process to literally turn waste into treasure.
The experiment at the Kilkivan Prophet Mine involved six tubes of piping with different "ingredients" to replicate different variables as seen in nature.
Fine gold particles were planted inside the pipes and left for a year-and-a-half to let nature get to work.
Collecting the gold particles on Tuesday was an exciting time for the scientists, who worked in the field under Mr Parson's enthusiastic gaze. Preliminary findings reveal the theory appears to stand up.
"What we hope to see are bigger pieces and learn what conditions promoted that," Dr Reith said.
And preliminary findings look promising.
"We have seen some bigger bits but they are so fine," Dr Reith said.
The samples are now being prepared for close analysis in the laboratory where precise measurements may be taken to quantify the results.
Dr Reith said patience played a big role in scientific research and it would be six to 12 months before full reports would be released.
Tuesday's step forward in the research builds on the work of the late Macquarie University geologist, Gunther Bischoff, who first demonstrated the theory on samples from Mr Parsons' mine in 1995.
At first dismissed in academic circles, the role of bacteria in gold formation and concentration is now being taken seriously and from the Kilkivan experiment could lead to lasting change to mining operations around the world.