Daniel Schmucker ‘17
Pesticide Degradation of the Triazole Fungicide Myclobutanil
Major/Minor: Chemistry Major, Math Minor
Hometown: Fredon, NJ
Project Advisor: Dr. Holliday
Date of Graduation: 2017
Briefly describe your project.
The objective of this project was to determine if the triazole fungicide, myclobutanil, could chirally degrade. Myclobutanil is commonly used in agriculture to prevent the growth of fungi and for this reason, knowing if it can break down is of great importance to farmers and to the environment. Since myclobutanil is used in the environment, we tried to degrade it with different strains of nitrilase enzymes. The main instruments used to measure degradation were HPLC (High Pressure Liquid Chromatography) and GC-MS (Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrophotometry). Over the course of the summer, 27 strains of nitrilase, both aromatic and aliphatic degrading, were run against myclobutanil. As a side project, I also helped Dr. Holliday study chemical trends in the beetle (Chlaenius coricollis) using SPME (Solid Phase Micro Extraction).
Describe the origin of your project. (E.g., did you pitch the idea and choose a faculty member, or did they come to you with an idea?)
This project derived from a Research Corporation grant. Multiple students at Swarthmore College studied chiral degradation and how bacteria could break down myclobutanil in their undergraduate theses. Using these theses as a foundation, we continued experimenting on myclobutanil.
What’s the best part about working with your faculty mentor? What valuable insights have they brought to your project?
The best part about working with Dr. Holliday was learning how to use the lab instruments in a personalized manner. Before the summer began, I did not feel comfortable using the instruments without a professor around, but now I am more than comfortable working alone with them. Another great part about working with Dr. Holliday was that she was always available if a question or issue came up. The amount I learned over the course of this summer has far exceeded how much I have learned in any class and the skills Dr. Holliday taught me with HPLC, GC-MS, and SPME will help me excel in graduate school and/or the work force.
What has been your biggest obstacle so far?
The biggest obstacle that we faced was the malfunctioning of equipment. This slowed the progress of our research because we could not get results when our instruments were not working. While I learned a lot about the instruments by taking them apart and isolating the problems, it was frustrating because it was a tangent from our research goals.
What has been your biggest takeaway from this experience?
The biggest takeaway that I received from this experience was learning about the lab instruments and how research works. The skills I acquired on the GC-MS and HPLC are very valuable and will help me in the years to come.
What was the result of your project? Was it congruent with your hypothesis?
At the beginning of the summer, we knew that degrading myclobutanil would be difficult. Since myclobutanil has a halogenated aromatic ring and a triazole group, the nitrile leaving group is very sterically hindered and degradation would not be favored. Since we saw no degradation, we cannot claim that Myclobutanil will degrade in the presence of nitrilase enzymes.
Do you think you’ll be able to extend on your research after this summer is over? If so, where would you like to see it go?
After this summer is over, I do not see an extension on this project. Other research groups have looked at myclobutanil and no degradation has been observed in a laboratory, however, it is known to degrade in nature.