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The Problem: Illegal Mining

Illegal mining can be defined as any mining activity which is undertaken without the permission of the state. It is popularly referred to as “Galamsey” in Ghana and the illegal miners who engage in this practice are locally referred to as “Galamseyers”. These “Galamseyers” mainly engage in illegal mining because they are poor and they need the money to survive.



Figure 1   Data from Ghana's Minerals Commission reveal that small-scale miners produced over one million ounces of gold (1,031,179) in 2015


According to the 2016 final report of the International Growth Center, the process of Galamsey normally includes the dredging of water bodies for gold or the digging of underground mines to extract ore which is then mixed with water and mercury to attract the gold particle from the ore.
The mining practices adopted by illegal miners are destroying not only the quality of the natural resources, but also the lives of innocent citizens who depend on these resources.



Figure 2 Women in the Ghanaian Town of Abosso.Galamsey offers far more financially. A great incetive for many people to forego the risks in pursuit of a better life Credits: myjoyonline.com


Water bodies are the central natural resource that are constantly being polluted and destroyed by the activities of illegal mining.
In recent times, many research papers and news articles in the country have reported on how illegal mining is destroying the main water bodies in the country.
For instance in 2014, the Bonsa River, in the Tarkwa Nsuaem Municipal Area of the country, was reported to have not only drastically reduced in volume but also intensely polluted by small-scale illegal mining such that it resulted in the ill health and death of many citizens living within that area. Sadly, such an example has become normal rather than the rare as a result of the crude methods implemented in illegal small scale mining activities.

“Galamsey” does not only destroy the natural resources of this country but it also causes a ripple effect which affects the food production of this country. According to the 2016 Journal of Food Security, “By degrading arable lands, contaminating water bodies, polluting the air, shifting labour from food crop farming to mining and displacing farmers, galamsey by surface mining is largely responsible for the low food production, food price spikes and the high cost of living, especially in galamsey-prone regions of Ghana.”



Figure 3   Illegal Miners in Obuasi The pressures on the environment increase, along with potenital physical harm, as these miners are exposed dangerous toxins, cave-ins etc


The methods adopted by illegal small-scale miners not only destroy the natural environment but also kill many people every year. As a result of this we were inspired to explore various alternative and novel ways in which Synthetic Biology could be used to rid our nation of the canker known as "Galamsey".

Our research led us to uncover an application of Synthetic Biology known as Bio-mining. Bio-mining is the biological process of extracting mineral resources from ore using special microorganisms such as Acidithiobaccillus ferrooxidans.



Figure 4   Whole-cell model for Acidithiobacillus Ferrooxidans


Our Project Idea

As our project, we intend to combine the capabilities of these special bio-mining microorganisms with a sensor to enable small-scale miners to not only liberate gold from ore but also identify and quantify the amount of gold in ore. If successful, we could eliminate the use of toxic chemicals such as mercury in mining and safeguard the well-being of both the miner and the environment.


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