Fulbright Scholar Focuses on Fungi
Mourad Ben Hassine Ben Ali is studying the connection between fungi and trees as a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the University of Arkansas in the Department of Biological Sciences.
Mourad is carrying out a research project that will develop a better understanding of the symbiotic relationship that occurs between ectomycorrhizal fungi and the roots of certain tree species.
Ectomycorrhizal fungi colonize the roots of trees and increase their host’s uptake of water and essential nutrients in exchange for sugars produced by these trees as a result of photosynthesis.
Mourad has traveled to a number of sites in Northwest Arkansas to collect root tips from oaks and Ozark chinquapins that contain ectomycorrhizal fungi. He’s also collected root tips from the American chestnut in Tennessee in a collaborative project with Lincoln Memorial University.
He’s extracted DNA from about 500 samples and from those samples he’s used molecular techniques to identify about 200 species of ectomycorrhizal fungi.
“One aspect of my project is to evaluate the impact of prescribed burning, which is a common forest management practice, in order to determine if the burning affects the ectomycorrhizal fungi associated with the tree,” Mourad said.
Mourad is spending the 2015-16 academic year in the research lab of Steve Stephenson, a research professor of biological sciences. He earned a doctorate at the University of Tunis El Manar in Tunisia. His dissertation examined macrofungi diversity associated with cork oak forests in northwestern Tunisia.
Fulbright Visiting Scholar grants are made to faculty and professionals from selected countries for advanced research and university lecturing in the United States.
The overall Fulbright Scholar Program is named for J. William Fulbright, former U of A president and longtime U.S. senator who wrote the bill that created the program for the “promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture and science.”