Accurate Microbial-diversity Estimation In Disturbed Systems (AMENDS)

Environmental Assessment (EA) is a critical step in evaluating the health of reclaimed mine sites. EA is vital to the local community, a major stakeholder, because EA has direct implications for human and environmental health. Therefore, EA acts as a dependable checkpoint to assess ecological function and sustainability. This checkpoint is vital to mining organizations because release of securities deposited at the beginning of mining operation is depended on clearing the EA. The deposited security can range into multi-million dollars; hence, EA has substantial economic implications.

Traditional approaches to EA were restricted to vegetation covers, which did not evaluate ecosystem-wide performance and therefore were not comprehensive. Recent advances in genomic tools allow a broader assessment of environmental performance. One approach has been to analyze soil microbial community and diversity using environmental DNA (eDNA). The high-throughput nature of the method makes eDNA a sensitive and reliable tool to appraise ecosystem performance and ecological function. But biodiversity measurements of the microbial community are biased due to the presence of relic DNA, which can exaggerate microbial biodiversity. Relic DNA is extracellular DNA from dead microorganisms that can persist in soils for years and can account for up to 80% of the total microbial DNA pool in some cases. Therefore, persistence of relic DNA defeats the purpose of using microbial biodiversity as a metric for EA.

With this project, we are proposing the standardization and inclusion of protocols that can selectively analyze eDNA from living microorganisms. The standard protocol will provide a better estimation of microbial diversity by increasing sensitivity and reliability, which would be useful to the mining industry, BC Ministry of Energy and Mines, BC Ministry of Environment, and Environment and Climate Change Canada. Combining microbial diversity assessments along with soil functionality can provide an ecosystem-wide appraisal of environmental health.