3 May 2023 – Monika Fajfer developed a keen interest in herpetology as a child. “At that time, I did not realize that the red spots I had seen on lizards from time to time were parasitic mites. I understood it years later during my Bachelor’s studies,” the Polish scientist says recalling lectures with acarologist Czesław Błaszak. Inspired by the lectures, she decided to combine these two fields of research, acarology and herpetology, and learn more about host-parasite relationships between mites and reptiles.
At Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland, her current focus is the Geckobia genus of parasitic mites, associated with geckos and distributed worldwide. “The mites are an interesting subject for research because they show great phenotypical plasticity and different host adaptations, and may also play a role in the transmission of reptile diseases,” Monika says.
As an EMBO Scientific Exchange Grantee, Fajfer was able to carry out fieldwork in India where she collected mites from geckos. The sample allowed her to start using molecular data in her research and kickstart a collaboration with Praveen Karanth from the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, who has herpetological experience. The EMBO grant allowed her to overcome limited research funding opportunities for young scientists in her country. “It helped me gain experience, learn new techniques and start cross-disciplinary international co-operation,” she says.