Fahd Al-Zwahi: “I’m the First in Yemen to Succeed in  Isolating Poisonous Fungus In Cheese” [Archives:1999/25/Culture]

June 21 1999

Every country has its own talented figures. They just need the support and patronage of their people. Once this is done, these talents can do wonders for their nations. Yemen is full of those people of extra-ordinary power who, if tapped, can do many things for the well-being of Yemen. One such talented person is Mr. Fahd Ahmad AL-Zwahi. He got his B.Sc in Micro-Biology from Taiz University. He is now working as a laboratory technician. He has done something laudable in his field of study; he has succeeded in isolating the poisonous fungi which develop in cheese during the preparation process. Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi and Imad Al-Saqqaf of Yemen Times met Mr. Al-Zwahi and filed the following interview. 
Q: What is the topic of your discovery? How did the idea came about? 
A: The topic of my discovery was about microscopic living things which could not be visible by eye, and is related to Fungi; the name of this fungus is scopulariopsis holophilico. This kind of fungus is regarded as being attracted to salt, but it appears very rarely . This fungus has benefits like other kinds of fungus such as the Penicillium, from which some antibiotics are extracted, and such as P.chriisogenium and other funguses that are used in making various types of cheese such as the P.Camampert. Unfortunately, it has negative effects on human health. It could also cause bleeding in late stages and may defect the human limbs, specially the nails which may wear out if the body’s resistance is not strong. 
Regarding how I got this idea. As students of the fourth level, we are required to submit a research concerning any topic that has been specified by the supervisor Doctor. I preferred my research topic to be in the comestibles products that are spread in the city of Taiz. I chose the cheese that is locally produced here in Yemen. I selected this product specifically because it could provide my with a vast information that I may need in my research which was focused on one specific area and that is the fungus and their percentages in cheese. 
I started preparing some of the research devices available in the microbiology laboratory and bought a quantity of cheese from different places in the city. First of all, I started to prepare the environment in which this fungus are being developed. It’s done by putting Czapeks Agar in which 10% of Sodium chloride is added and then I started to dilute every 5 grams of cheese. This dilution helps in reducing the concentration of microbes present in the specimen. The development of the fungus lasted two and half months under the temperature of 28 degrees Celsius. 
Then I started noting down different kinds of fungus species which developed in a large number, where some of this species were poisonous and their hazard to human beings and animals were similar to Aspergillus flavus that produce poisons known as Ablatoxine and all the funguses which I was researching developed in large quantities except that one. I found that I was successful in isolating these poisonous fungus, which didn’t develop further. They were a component of one part of all the specimens on which discovery was made. 
Q: As an employee of the University, what has it done for you? 
A: With this question , you have forced me to say the truth. That is, you’ll make me talk about things which I didn’t want to say. Any how, the university provided me with a piece of paper, with an introduction like any other governmental department in the country. I am the third person in the Arab world and the first in Yemen who was able to isolate this fungus and this was testified to by Dr. Mohammed Abdul Sattar the head of the microbiology department, Dr. Dia’a Al-Munshea head of the Biology department and Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Zubeiri the dean of the science college at the time, but now he vice rector of the University. Being one of the pioneers in achieving this discovery in Yemen, I have tried hard to get a scholarship to proceed further with my higher studies but I couldn’t succeed in this. After discussing my problem with Dr. Hussein Al-Shaiba he expressed some interest and asked Dr. Al-Zubeiri to solve my problem. I was asked to present my subject so that it could be looked into through the laws and arrangements necessary, but the response from Dr. Al-Zubeiri was that these kinds of regulations were not accessible at that time, and when they have rights in this aspect, they will look into my subject. Later on, there was an announcement from the ministry of education that there would be a complimentary educational survey for providing the Masters degree. 
So, I wrote a memorandum to the Ministry of Education and mentioned that I am an employee at the University of Taiz and work as a technician in the micro-biology laboratory as well as being the only who has innovated a way of isolating the poisonous fungus from the others in Yemen. There was no objection to providing me with this scholarship, but my request was refused with the plea that I was not a member of the university teaching staff. I accepted this refusal and was frustrated, but still I was having a great hope. I believe if I didn’t succeed in getting a scholarship, I would go and meet the Minister of education Mr. Yahya Al-Shuaiby or the president Ali Abdalluh Saleh, who I think is the only one who could take care of and encourage people like me. 
Q: What are the obstacles that are faced by the researchers, in your opinion? 
A: In spite of all the frustrations that the researcher face, there are other kinds of problems that the researchers face in Yemen. They are things like lacking finances which are very important for their projects, lacking of sophisticated devices which could give accurate results and lacking the necessary references which may be needed. Above all they lack a professional research center. 
Q: How much is the financial allocation for research at the university? 
A: I would prefer if you could ask this question to some of the responsible authorities, but in my opinion there should be large sum incurred for this kind of job. 
Q: What are your future plans after this discovery? 
A: All I want now is to get an opportunity for post-graduation in the same field because I am not satisfied with my current achievements and dream of more. At this time, I am preparing for more research. 
Q: Your closing words? 
A: In the beginning I would say to all of the creative and ambitious young people in Yemen that the fortune of the country will depend on your efforts and your love for knowledge, do not lose heart. Some of the corrupt people will try to hinder your progress but you will have to struggle for the benefit of your country. 
My last word to every honest senior official in the country and in the the name of every creative man who possesses all the love to their country, try to be our patrons who support us whenever we need, and don’t ever get involved in destroying what is beneficial for this beloved country.