International research collaboration examines microbial ecosystem of active fault zone in SA

Belinda Bantham -- Thu, 06/14/2018 - 13:10

International research collaboration examines microbial ecosystem of active fault zone in SA

The North-West University’s Centre for Water Science and Management (CWSM) recently joined an international research team that will focus on the microbial ecosystem of an active fault zone in South Africa.

This collaboration follows after the appointment of Prof Esta van Heerden as an extraordinary professor within the centre. Prof Van Heerden specialises in environmental microbial diversity and using indigenous microbes for remediation.

More about the research

The specific objective of the research project is to document the microbial ecosystem of an active fault zone at 3,5 to 3,6 kilometres in depth in South Africa. More specifically, the goal is to delineate how the syntrophic chemolithoautotrophic microbial communities that exist in the deep subsurface respond to pulses of H2 released during seismic activity.

The samples being collected will be unique in that they will represent both biofilms attached to mineral substrates and planktonic communities. Very few studies, if any, have reported on the differences in both the metabolic potential (i.e. through metagenomic sequencing) and active metabolism (i.e. through metatranscriptomics and metaproteomics) of the sessile versus suspended microbial constituents of a deep subsurface ecosystem.

There are a number of collaborators with the main ones being Prof Tullis Onstott of Princeton University and Mary DeFlaun from Geosyntec Consultants. These experts will visit the CWSM in June 2018. Researchers from Japan, South Africa, the United States, Germany and India are also involved.

Prof Esta van Heerden.