Student: Claire Muerdter, Graduate Student in Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Iowa
Faculty Advisor: Gregory H. LeFevre
Pollution Processing by Vegetation: Protecting Water, Food, and Environmental Quality
Space travel takes place in closed-loop systems, which benefit from vegetation that produces food and treats waste. My research addresses both functions. I study how vegetation processes pollutants. When crops are irrigated with recycled water, this topic is relevant to food production. I study two pollutant types. The first type is neonicotinoid insecticides, which are the most widely used insecticides worldwide. This includes heavy use in Iowa. These water-soluble compounds enter lakes, rivers, and streams. I documented a previously unknown microbial-plant relationship in duckweed that removes these pesticides from water. This common aquatic plant could, therefore, be playing an important role in detoxifying neonicotinoid pesticides. I also study a group of compounds called isothiazolinones. These microbe-killing molecules are common in personal care products such as lotions, as well as in paints and other building materials. They can wash off of buildings with rain or off of people during showering. I demonstrated for the first time that these compounds are rapidly taken up by plants. I am now determining more about this process and its metabolites, to inform the toxicity implications to the environment and those who may eat the exposed plants.