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Published: 2023-08-25 Updated: 2023-10-27, 13:59

Digs into the role of gut microbes in mucosal barrier degradation

NEWS A post on LinkedIn about the EC postdoctoral programme called for Tunisian Aicha Kriaa’s attention. Now, almost one year later she is about to pursue her career in Umeå. She enjoys the international atmosphere here but misses the food and the rich scent of jasmine at home.

I knew I wanted to take a step forward in my life and I needed something more challenging

What is your academic background?

“I hold a master's degree in molecular and cellular biology from the University of Sfax in Tunisia.  Having always been drawn to research, I pursued my studies with a Ph.D. in biology at the University of Sfax and the University of Paris-Saclay in France. In 2021, I wanted to open up my horizons and bring diversity to my mission, so I turned to scientific project management, by joining two European Coordination Support Actions, Human Microbiome Action, and Microbiome Support, both of which are coordinated by France’s National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment and seek to raise awareness of the importance of the microbiome in a very broad sense.”

What was it like to start your research carrier in France?

“When I first joined INRAE as a Ph.D. student, I was keen to embark on new ventures and meet new people. The whole experience was a real eye-opener, bringing me in touch with scientists from different backgrounds and making me realize the weight of networking and ‘politics’ in the field.” 

“What I appreciate most about working as a scientific project manager was the close link with science and the chance of learning how to translate this science into economic notions so that it can be useful to society.”

How did you end up in Northern Sweden and at Umeå University?

“The first time I saw the call for applications for the Excellence by Choice program on LinkedIn, I was intrigued and drawn to the concept. The idea that we were given the opportunity to draft a project, regardless of whether we would actually stick to it or not, was challenging. I knew I wanted to take a step forward in my life and I needed something more challenging, that's why I chose Umeå University.”

What is your research focusing on?

“My current research aims to gain new insights into the role of gut microbes in the degradation of the mucosal barrier. The project joins Björn Schröder's and Ulrika Westerlind's teams, both of whom share particular expertise in the analysis of mucus degradation. We will be using a combination of animal and human samples, as well as in vitro experiments. Our goal is to better understand the role of mucin-degrading bacteria in intestinal inflammation and eventually use this knowledge to develop new ways to prevent and/or treat the disease.”

What is challenging and rewarding respectively with being a researcher?

 “For me, one of the greatest challenges of being a researcher is accepting failure. Sometimes things don't go to plan, no matter how confident and skilled we are. After a couple of rather spectacular failures, I realized that there was always a lesson to be learned. I learned not to fear failure and not to focus on the result per se, but rather on the process, which for me is the most rewarding and valuable part of the story.“

Where do you see yourself in five years?

"Upgrading my career as a scientist."

What are your first impressions of Sweden, Umeå and Umeå University?

"Cozy and calm. It's a place where everyone can feel welcome and comfortable. I was impressed by Umeå’s international aura from the moment I set foot here. I guess no one would feel out of place in Umeå."

Short facts about Aicha

Coming from: Tunisia
Me in three words: curious, organized, patient
Tunisia in few words: revolution, freedom, conviviality, lots and lots of memories
Exciting with my project: a better understanding of mucus function in intestinal inflammation could pave the way for better treatments in the future
Interests: painting, sketching, reading, walking around the city, traveling
Favourite book: Grit by Angela Duckworth
Hidden talent: Good at cooking
Miss from home: Lots of things; my family for sure, food (nothing beats my mom’s cooking), summer nights, the jasmine scent, and much more
The first Swedish word I learned: Fika!!!
Wanted to become when I was a child: Pharmacist

For more information, please contact:

Aicha Kriaa