Crossing Cultures, Building Bridges Sarrah Ben M'BarekSarrah Ben M'Barek is using her cross-cultural research experience to build bridges between countries. Born in Tunisia, Sarrah would travel often to visit her mother's family located near one of the oldest tree cultivation centers in the Netherlands. As a child, traversing between tree nurseries in Boskoop, The Netherlands, and wheat fields in Beja, Tunisia, plant biology ran through Sarrah's veins, as did a growing desire to protect one of the world's most important crops, wheat, from disease. Sarrah is something of a detective. "What excites me is using science to uncover the interaction between the host and the pathogen," she says. A current UNESCO-L'Oréal fellow, Sarrah dedicated her Ph.D., conducted at Plant Research International & Wageningen Research Center in The Netherlands, to investigating the genome of a killer fungus, Mycosphaerella graminicola, a disease so devastating that $600 million is spent each year in Europe alone to apply fungicides to prevent the annual 15–50 percent yield losses. Sarrah wants to find the genes that make this fungus so harmful—clues that will lead to more sustainable ways to keep the fungus at bay. As she looks for signs of the fungus' weaknesses in its DNA, she hopes to follow in Dilfuza and Alejandra's footsteps—decreasing the use of fungicides by finding other ways to control disease. Sarrah wants to take advantage of her unique position, straddling two countries and fluent in four languages, to encourage student exchanges between Tunisia and the Netherlands. "I want to keep this connection alive between one of the world's most important wheat producing regions and one of the world's most important agricultural universities," says Sarrah.
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