Microbial community study of the iron ore concentrate of the Sishen Iron Ore Mine, South Africa

11 Nov 2008

As a result of the advancing global technologies and civilisation, there has been a progressive depletion of high-grade mineral deposits. Consequently, it has become increasingly important to process lower-grade ores. Phosphorous (P) and particular potassium (K) contained in the iron ore concentrates of the Sishen Iron Ore Mine have a detrimental effect on the steel making process, whereby these alkali’s cause cracks to form in the refractory lining of blast furnaces. It is initially essential to determine which microbes are indigenously present at the Sishen Iron Ore Mine before strategising how best to employ them to industrial advantage. Therefore, the objective of this study was to determine which microorganisms are indigenous to the iron ore and soil of the Sishen Iron Ore Mine. The bacterial 16S PCR and fungal ITS PCR revealed several bacterial and fungal species present in the mine environment. The bacterial isolates were found to be closely related to Herbaspirillum species, as well as Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans, while the fungal isolates were closely related to Aureobasidium pullulans, Phaeosphaeria nodorum, Aspergillus umigatus, and Candida parapsilosis. Isolating A. fumigatus from the iron ore/soil of the mine may indicate that A. niger, the most common fungi used for the production of citric acid, can adapt to the stringent mine environment. This would allow the application of A. niger for the production of citric acid, which may be used for the chemical leaching of the P and K from the iron ore concentrate of the Sishen Iron Ore Mine.