|USIA Fulbright Scholar in Morocco|
March 3, 1999
I arrived in Rabat on February 25, 1999 and the next day, I went to Agadir, University of Ibnou Zohr, where my headquarter is located at the College of Sciences. After arriving in the afternoon, I met Dr. B and was located in a comfortable place. I started working the next day at 8:15, fighting the jetlag, and continued the same schedule throughout the stay. We worked intensively and quite often stay beyond 6 p.m. The results of this intensive work have been quite rewarding, as the molecular genetic diversity laboratory of Dr. B is established and operational. Below are the details of my contributions and the results of the visit.
First, I arrived Morocco with valuable supplies for molecular biology work that included enzymes, primers, buffers, etc. The paper work for buying and transporting the material was time-consuming. All the supplies had to be kept frozen for three days during the trip, which was a considerable challenge. But, the effort was successful and the material arrived in good condition. Dr. B refunded me for the price of the supplies; nonetheless, it resulted in extensive savings of thousands of dollars for her laboratory should she had to purchase it from here, not to mention the time and effort that it would have taken.
Our objective first was to set up the equipment of the laboratory and make sure that they are operational. Time was also spent on the training for the use of the equipment. Once that goal was achieved, the next goal was to prepare all the reagents and buffers needed for the molecular work. Meanwhile, I was providing the practical and theoretical backgrounds on the details of the molecular approaches and the procedures that need to be followed in this type of research. All the people in the lab were quite perceptive, interested and cooperative.
The next step was to work on the DNA extraction, which was no easy task under the conditions available here and the type of plants to be studied. It took a number of trials and fine-tuning. But again, the effort was very successful and DNA of good quality was obtained. Now the doors are open for the students to continue the extraction of the samples of argan, thuya and the other plant species they want to study in their overall research program and postgraduate degrees.
The final step in the project was to set up the DNA amplification procedure with the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method. The PCR method uses extremely small amount of DNA to amplify certain parts of the genes. The method tends to be sensitive to different experimental factors. This part has also been successful. The positive results of the PCR method not only told us that the lab is fully operational, but also indicated that the supplies I brought with me have arrived in excellent condition.
Therefore, the project I proposed for the Fulbright has been accomplished with complete success. The laboratory of Dr. B is fully operational for DNA extraction, PCR amplification and the study of genetic diversity and genomic relationships using amplified DNA product. Example of the latter is the RAPD method. We are currently working on a good draft of a manuscript in which we are combining the result of the 1996 Fulbright visit of Dr. B to my laboratory and the current work in her laboratory. We anticipate that we would submit the manuscript for publication this year.
I submitted a grant proposal to the National Geographic Society prior to my departure from the United States in January for funds to help us collect argan in a systematic way for further RAPD study. After consulting with Dr. B about the expenses needed to collect argan, I requested about $8,500 from the society. I received a message indicating that the proposal was approved after the first stage of the screening, and special forms are now need to be filled out for the final evaluation. However, Dr. B indicated to me recently that she would like to collect other plants and that she has collections of argan. I can not use the money for purposes other than what I have proposed to the National Geographic society. Therefore, I shall ask the National Geographic society to take my proposal out of consideration. I indicated to Dr. B that I will be happy to help her obtain funding in the future for her work by looking at her proposals and making helpful suggestions.
During the time spent at University of Ibnou Zohr, I also taught two lectures in Dr. B's course. The subjects included the origin of agriculture, centers of agriculture and their geographic distribution, global crops and crop their distribution, and the agricultural and economic importance of the centers of agriculture. This gave me the opportunity to interact with Moroccan students in the classrooms. I found the students to be very interested in learning and not shying away from inquiring about what they do not now. Had I known in advance that such an opportunity will be available, I would have brought slides and other teaching material along with me.
I also was able to interact with some of the scientists at the college, though the interaction was not as intense as I would have liked it to be because of the demands of work in Dr. B's laboratory. I visited the dean of the college and spoke in details with the head of the biology department. I will be sending some information to help him access various web pages to help his molecular biology program. We spent one Saturday visiting some of the vegetable production sites around Agadir and discussing various issues related to his research work and mine. I also will be sending some non-perishable supplies to the laboratory of one of the professors and inquiring about possible collaboration for another one with colleagues at Virginia Tech.
Dr. B's has some good students who I enjoyed teaching and working with. One of them is a teacher at the University in Marrakech; she is mature, intelligent and capable of establishing her own research program in the future. I will be happy to have her spend some time in my laboratory to obtain more research experience. I will also support her application for a Fulbright award after interacting with her for six weeks.
One aspect was not satisfied during these six weeks, and that is having the time to interact with other Moroccan scientists at that institute and nearby ones. For the next visit, I would very much like to allocate more time for this interaction as I see it very valuable for the college as a whole and for Morocco. When the time approaches for the next part of the award, I will send a more detailed plan for the visit.
In conclusion, I am extremely pleased with the success of the visit and the achievements made during these six weeks. In fact, I feel that we have accomplished most of the objectives proposed for the Fulbright scholarship. The visit has been also rewarding to me as I had the chance to transfer technology to Morocco, learn about scientists and students in the University of Ibnou Zohr, and experience this wonderful culture and heritage. I thank the Fulbright for making all this possible.