Photo courtesy of Abeer Elqishawi.
Rowan, left, and Rozan Elqishawi point to their names on the Wall of Fame at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
Most kids look at a ladybug and see a cute insect. Sisters Rowan and Rozan Elqishawi looked at the spotted beetles and wondered if their blood could cure a disease and save the world’s citrus industry billions of dollars.
“What my sister and I have essentially done is create a pesticide and potential antibiotic from ladybug blood,” said Rowan Elqishawi, now a Hoover High School graduate. “We have discovered that the blood of the Asian lady beetles can be used to create a pesticide with the potential to ‘cure’ a specific disease along with certain strains of E. coli.”
The pair of sisters recently expanded on their discovery to win third place in their category at a highly prestigious international science fair.
The disease, huanglongbing (HLB), causes billions of dollars worth of losses to the citrus industry every year, she said.
“The current treatments for HLB are not effective and involve mostly preventive measures in which there is no permanent cure whatsoever. Our goal was to find it,” Rowan said.
And their research was successful, said Rowan’s sister, Rozan, an upcoming junior at Hoover High School.
“We have found a potential cure for HLB from ladybug blood,” she said.
And it’s because they started asking out-of-the-box questions a long time ago, said science teacher Rana Eloubeidi.
“I had the pleasure of teaching Rowan science when she was in sixth grade,” Eloubeidi said. “I saw in her a passion for science and a strong sense of commitment and a high level of hard work that enabled her to pose interesting scientific questions and then to conduct well-designed experiments in pursuit of plausible answers.”
It carried Rowan Elqishawi through to her senior year and helped her lead and encourage her sister’s love of science, too, said Janet Ort, environmental teacher at Hoover High School.
“She [Rowan] is passionate about improving the world around her by investigating issues. She also has the thoroughness to search out new solutions and overcome any hurdles along the way,” Ort said. “And her leadership of the ladybug project was a wonderful juxtaposition of ‘a-ha’ moments and hard work. She has the gift of story to communicate the process and potential of the results to the world.”
That showed as the sisters represented the state on Team Alabama at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix in May. About 1,700 students from 75 countries, regions and territories competed for $4 million in prizes at Intel ISEF.
The Elqishawi sisters won third in the plant science category.
“We also had the opportunity to present our project to about 3,000 school children ages 7 to 14 from the state of Arizona,” Rozan Elqishawi said. “I feel like we had the duty to make these kids enjoy our presentation, because we may have given them the inspiration to conduct a science project of their own.”
It was the encouragement of the sisters’ mother, teachers and mentors that gave them their own inspiration to ask questions and chase the answers, Rozan Elqishawi said — mentors such as Tariq Hamid, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“Both of these girls are extraordinary,” Hamid said, who offered his lab for their use with the project. “They came to me with an idea, and all I had to do was refine it and help them with the science. I was very impressed with the dedication and commitment that these girls showed.”
The project could have significant implications on citrus diseases, he said.
“And it might spawn new directions in figuring out an effective treatment for the disease,” Hamid said.