Genes in Space, the five finalists: Alia Al Mansoori

An Emirati pupil inspired by her older siblings working in science-related fields said being a Genes in Space finalists would help her achieve her dream of following in their footsteps.

Alia Al Mansoori had plenty of resources at home from which she could draw. Satish Kumar / The National
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DUBAI // An Emirati pupil inspired by her older siblings said being a Genes in Space finalist would help her to achieve her dream of following in their footsteps into science-related fields.

With two of her brothers working as forensic scientists for Dubai Police – one of whom is studying for a doctorate in Criminal Law at the same time – and her sister in a government initiative to fund innovation, Alia Al Mansoori said she had plenty of resources at home when preparing her proposal.

“I asked my brothers so many questions about genetics and kept on going through their text books to learn more,” said Alia, 14, who is in Grade 9 at Almawakeb School.

She said her research led to her the topic of possible gene mutation in space and the ways it could be prevented.

“When you send humans to space you know their bodies are going to react to the different environment,” Alia said.

“I knew astronauts on the International Space Station were exposed to cosmic radiation and microgravity and thought these conditions could lead to mutations of our cells.”

Her experiment proposes the study of heat shock proteins – those produced by cells in response to exposure to stressful conditions – in a microgravity environment to see if they could help to stop mutation.

When Alia found out her submission had been selected among the top five she said it took a while for her and her mother to process.

“I was freaking out, it felt like I was dreaming,” she said. “I was jumping around for hours after they told me. Even my mum thought I was joking, she couldn’t believe it. I kept telling her this is real.”

Her science teacher and mentor, Waed Btadini, said working on the experiment idea had broadened Alia’s appreciation of the sciences.

“She was exposed to so much new knowledge and it changed her way of thinking, especially in linking concepts together,” Ms Btadini said.

She said she was excited about their school receiving a mini-PCR machine as one of Alia’s prizes.

“It is the first step to shifting from routine lab experiments to higher-level experiments in biotechnology,” Ms Btadini said.

Alia said her achievement would help her classmates to broaden their outlook on the possibilities of future careers.

“A lot of them are interested in the sciences but most of them want to be doctors,” she said. “Hearing about this competition through me will get them thinking outside the box and relate sciences to different majors.”

Alia said she felt that she was one step closer to achieving something big. “It makes me more confident. I’m very hopeful and incredibly excited.”

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Genes in Space: Full coverage

Profiles: Meet the five finalists for Genes in Space

In pictures: UAE pupils get chance to fine tune their entries

National Editorial: More than a contest

A step closer: Eight UAE pupils among final five

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tsubaihi@thenational.ae