New Gold Is Doing New Things With Genomics

Published: May 13th 2016

The mining industry is constantly looking for new ways to reduce the environmental impact of mine sites. Restoring the ecosystems in and around legacy sites-lands where mines have operated is a key component.

One way to assess progress is to measure the biodiversity of life in those areas. Traditionally, mining companies have monitored biodiversity by trapping insects individually and determining the species through taxonomy. It’s a process that can take months, and is prone to error.

But now, New Gold, a mining company in British Columbia, is finding that a genomics-based approach can provide accurate information far more rapidly.

New Gold, Dr. Paul Hebert and other research partners at the University of Guelph have devised a process that uses DNA to identify the species in a more economical, precise and timely manner. Using Hebert’s Barcode of Life Database (a catalogue of DNA sequence information for a targeted genome region from hundreds of thousands of species), they can match the DNA found in their collection of specimens to determine what organisms are present at the mine sites.

We invited New Gold’s Director of Health, Safety, Environment & Social Responsibility, Dennis Wilson, to share his company’s story at the Mining Innovation Symposium hosted by Mining Industry Newfoundland and Labrador in February.

He says this more accurate and timely data is helping New Gold make practical decisions about environmental impact and reclamation, leading to more productive and efficient use of both time and money.

The idea for the project came to Wilson after seeing a presentation by Hebert and his partners. He wondered if it could be used to measure the success rate of their reclamation efforts. They used NSERC program funds and some company investment to make it happen. He attributes the diversity of expertise and experience of those on the project with its success.

The project was so positive, and the results so successful that New Gold is now looking at other ways to potentially use genomics beyond reclamation optimization such as optimizing water treatment facilities, cyanide destruction, exploration and remediation.

Wilson says participating in the symposium in Newfoundland and Labrador was a great opportunity to explore more ways to incorporate R&D as an industry. “We can’t be afraid to push ourselves and our colleagues to use innovation to solve common issues.”