Dr Susan Pfiffner a microbial ecologist and co-director of
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Dr. Susan Pfiffner, a microbial ecologist and co-director of the University of Tennessee's

May 26, 2010
Dr. Susan Pfiffner, a microbial ecologist and co-director of the University of Tennessee's (UT) Biogeochemical Educational Experiences, South Africa (BEE-SA), a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, retrieves her in-situ enrichment experiment in Harmony Gold Mining Company Ltd's Merrispruit 1 Mine, South Africa.

Undergraduate participants in BEE-SA collected fissure water samples from South African gold mines as part of their research. South African mines, particularly the deep gold mines, have been selected for study because they provide relatively easy access to deep fissure waters and the rocks that host them. Since these mines are some of the deepest excavations in the world, they increase the possibility of uncontaminated studies of earlier evolution. [Image 3 of 11 related images. See Image 4.]

More about this Image Supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) REU program and by UT, BEE-SA brings together U.S. and South African students and faculty mentors in South Africa to examine microbial life forms that exist in the deepest mines in the world. The international host institution is the University of Free State (UFS) in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

Students participating in BEE-SA work side by side with South African students under the joint supervision of U.S. and South African faculty, conducting interdisciplinary research on biogeochemical processes in South African gold mines. As part of the research program, students present research results during laboratory progress meetings, at a science symposium held at the conclusion of the REU activity, and in written manuscript format as a final report. During the REU tenure, students have the opportunity to explore scientific, educational and technical collaborations, as well as career development. Topics of research include the characterization of microbial communities with molecular and biochemical techniques; utilization of geochemical and isotopic parameters to constrain nutrient cycling in groundwater; investigating extreme enzymes--proteomics; and examining functional genes.

BEE-SA is an outgrowth of NSF-funded research, including workshops supported by NSF's Life in Extreme Environments program (LExEn), managed by Princeton University. The goal of the Princeton LExEn project is to study biochemical approaches for gold extraction at depths beyond the limit of human mining, utilizing mesophilic sulfide oxidizing and Fe (II) oxidizing bacteria prior to cyanidation. (Year of image: 2003)

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