Abu Dhabi: Some of the samples collected from Abu Dhabi beaches tested positive for salmonella and vibrio bacteria.

Sarra Al Hassani, a 22-year-old Emirati won first prize from among various projects submitted by Zayed University students for her project titled: 'Identifying Pathogenic Bacteria in Seawater Samples Using Rapid PCR-Based Assays' which was part of the 7th Annual Academic Symposium in Zayed University (ZU).

A January 2008 graduate, she with the support of her friend and teacher Fatme Al Anouti, Assistant Professor, Natural Science and Public Health in ZU, Sarra decided to study a form of pollution found in sea water that can result in an epidemic or even death across the UAE.

With the help of the Abu Dhabi Environmental Agency, Sarra started her project 10 weeks ago and came up with an analysis and project plan within three weeks.

After collecting sea water samples from public beaches she tested each of her samples twice; then subjected them to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis, which is a procedure that amplifies target genes in pathogens and then identifies them by DNA fingerprinting.

"Sea water is critical because people don't realise there are bacteria in the water. One of the side-effects of population growth in coastal areas is that a large amount of untreated sewage ends up in the ocean," she said.

This form of pollution results from the increasing number of industrial facilities near Abu Dhabi shores which adds to the contamination of the beaches.

Water monitoring, she explained, is therefore very important because it measures the chemical, physical, and biological characteristics of water, which gives an indication of the water quality.

Measuring the level of disease causing microbes, known as pathogens is necessary in order to protect public health and prevent or control the outbreak of diseases such as cholera and dysentery, which are transmitted by microbes.

"For my project, I wanted to develop a new test to screen for disease causing bacteria in sea water that would be sensitive, rapid and cost effective. The method would be to analyse samples using the scientific technique known as polymerase chain reaction, or PCR-based assay," she said.

Both Al Anouti and Dean J. Michael Allen, College of Arts and Sciences, were sure Sarra would win first prize. "She worked so hard on this, she's full of motivation, confidence and ambition. We are very proud of her."

Sarra's project has highlighted the importance of maintaining a safe, clean environment at public beaches. She has been recently accepted at Leeds University for her post graduate studies.

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