Mines News

Release Date Monday, June 27, 2016

Researchers from Mines, India Collaborate to Study SURF Microorganisms

South Dakota Mines students (clockwise, from left) Mohit Bibra, Kayla Inman, Ashley Preston and Aditi David prepare to sample extremophiles 4,850 feet below the earth’s surface at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead. They have been working under the guidance of Rajesh Sani, Ph.D., in his ongoing study of microorganisms living in seemingly uninhabitable environments. Next fall, two researchers from India will join the study for a year, working on site at Mines laboratories.

RAPID CITY, S.D. (June 27, 2016) – The South Dakota School of Mines & Technology will host researchers from India for a year-long collaborative bioprocessing study on extremophiles found deep underground, which could lead to the development of efficient and cost-effective green technologies.

An in-depth understanding of organisms living in such extreme environments as those a mile below the earth’s surface at the Sanford Underground Research Facility will help scientists convert solid wastes to bioenergy.

The Sanford Lab in Lead is located in the former Homestake Gold Mine. Of the 370 miles of tunnels, just 12 are maintained to house world-class laboratories where international dark matter and neutrino experiments are being conducted in search of answers to the origins of the universe.

Last week it was announced that South Dakota Mines has been awarded a $750,000 NASA grant to develop a power source for long-term space missions, with extremophiles isolated from SURF to be used as test subjects. 

The Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum and Government of India has awarded fellowships for two chemical engineers to spend the next year in the Black Hills conducting research at South Dakota Mines laboratories with Rajesh Sani, Ph.D., of the Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering. Their projects focus on “Extremophilic Bioprocessing of Lignocellulose-based Renewables for Biofuels and Bioproducts.”

“Last year I worked with and supported these engineers on their applications. We came up with good proposals which have synergy with my group’s ongoing extremophilic research,” Sani said. Over the past decade Sani’s group has been looking for thermophiles that can naturally degrade and ferment cellulose and xylan, a polysaccharide found in plant cell walls.

“We believes that these microbes can circumvent the multiple steps of fuel production, including pre-treatment, saccharification, fermentation and separation of the product,” he said. In a recent study Sani’s group showed that at 70 degrees Celsius thermostable hydrolytic enzymes from a Geobacillus sp. thermophile were able to convert untreated prairie cord grass and corn stover to fermentable sugars much more effectively than commercial enzymes.

The thermophiles produce biohydrogen or bioethanol in a single step using inexpensive regional untreated biomass such as prairie cordgrass and corn stover, as well as mixed food and human wastes, Sani said.

Visiting researchers Sachin Kumar, Ph.D., deputy director/scientist at the Sardar Swaran Singh National Institute of Bio-Energy, and R. Navanietha Krishnaraj, Ph.D., technical officer at the National Institute of Technology, Durgapur, India, will arrive in September and stay through August of 2017.

The Forum and Government of India award will cover airfare, health insurance and $3,000 in monthly expenses each.


About SD Mines  

Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university located in Rapid City, S.D., offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university enrolls 2,654 students with a student-to-faculty ratio of 15:1. The SD School of Mines placement rate for graduates is 97 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $61,300. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Snapchat

Contact: Fran LeFort, (605) 394-6082, Fran.LeFort@sdsmt.edu