Bacillus cereus, gold and associated elements in soil and other regolith samples from Tomakin Park Gold Mine in southeastern New South Wales, Australia

Frank Reith*, D. C. McPhail, A. G. Christy

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    53 Citations (Scopus)


    Efficient exploration for new Au deposits is increasingly important as existing deposits become depleted. This is particularly relevant in Australia, where exploration can be difficult because of a thick regolith cover. New and effective methods of exploration need to be developed, and possibilities lie in geomicrobiological methods. For instance, Bacillus cereus, a common soil bacterium, has been shown to act as a biogeochemical indicator for concealed mineralisations, including vein-type Au deposits. We report the results of the first Australian case study of the association of B. cereus and Au at the Tomakin Park Gold Mine in southeastern New South Wales. Soil samples from the Ah horizon were analysed for B. cereus spores and 56 major and trace elements. The results show enrichment of Au, As, B. cereus spores and, to a lesser extent, Sb, Bi and Pb over the top of the Au deposit. Gold concentrations over the mineralisation range from 100 ppb to 1.1 ppm compared to a background of 2 ppb and As concentrations are enriched to 100 ppm from a background of 5 ppm. B. cereus spore counts were up to 10 times higher in soils with elevated concentrations of Au. Factor analysis indicates four main associations: TiO2 +lanthanides+actinides; CaO+MgO+Cs+Be+Ba(+Ga+Pb+Rb); B. cereus+Au+As+Sb+Bi(+Pb); Fe2O3+MnO+Co+Ni+Cu+Mo. Selective sequential leaching was used to study the fractionation of Au and As in soils, other regolith materials and Au-bearing vein quartz to infer their mobility and bioavailability. In unweathered quartz vein material, the majority of the Au was extracted only in the strongest, final step, with aqua regia. However, in soils from the Ah horizon, 50% of the Au was present in the water-, ammonium acetate- and sodium pyrophosphate- and hydroxylamine hydrochloride-extractable fractions. In contrast, As displays little change in fractionation with an increasing degree of weathering, and is predominantly associated with the operationally defined Mn- and Fe-oxides and oxyhydroxides. These results indicate that: (i) Au is mobilised during the weathering of the host rock; (ii) Au is bioavailable in these soils; and (iii) the increase in B. cereus spores is likely to be linked to elevated concentrations of bioavailable Au in these soils. The results indicate also that an effective biogeochemical exploration technique may be developed, where B. cereus spore counts are measured in the field and used as a pre-screening method to target areas useful for further sampling and complete geochemical analysis.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)81-98
    Number of pages18
    JournalJournal of Geochemical Exploration
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2005


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