ALGIERS—Halima Benbouza, an Algerian biotechnology scholar, has won international recognition both for her work on using plant genetics to improve human health and as a role model for women in science.
While she has been offered high-profile research posts abroad, she has chosen to remain in her native country, where she is focusing on the genetic properties of local crops like dates and olives that may someday prove useful in the fight against cancer.
Benbouza spends many hours each day in her laboratory at the Institute of Veterinary and Agronomic Sciences of the University of Batna documenting the genetic characteristics of hundreds of samples of agricultural products collected from different regions in Algeria.
“I am working on a comprehensive survey of the genetic characteristics of Algerian dates and olives whose characteristics differ from similar agricultural products in other countries, in order to use the results later on in treating cancer,” she said.
Benbouza’s interest in such research comes as a result of her country’s reputation for producing specific types of dates and olives at a time when the incidence of cancer in Algeria is expected to rise sharply. Officials have predicted that the number of new cases diagnosed each year will rise from 44,800 in 2016 to 62,000 in 2025 as a result of various factors, including a trend toward unhealthy eating habits by Algerians, according to government statements.
Benbouza says it’s too early to discuss any specific findings from her latest research. “As a scholar, I don’t like to talk about my work,” she said. “I prefer to wait until accurate results are reached. Then, the results will speak for themselves instead of me.”
A Rising Star in Plant Genetics
Benbouza’s current research at the intersection of plant genetics and human health builds on previous work that has won her international recognition and awards.
In 2014, she was honored by the U.S. State Department’s “Women in Science Hall of Fame” program, which recognizes outstanding women in science throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The program is a global initiative started in 2010 to encourage and support women’s scientific and technological achievements in the region.