Republic of Poland

Wrocław Scholarship for research on inclusion

November 21, 2016

Marta Konikiewicz – a graduate of an architectural class, General Secondary School no 3 in Wrocław and biology at the Wrocław University is writing her doctoral thesis under the supervision of professor Joanna Mąkol at the Institute of Biology at the Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences. The research is financed from a grant within the Preludium 9 program of the National Science Centre and Paleontological Society International Research Program Sepkoski Grant 2015. Her research in the area of paleobiology gained recognition of experts evaluating doctoral students’ applications for the Student Scholarship Program.

The scholarships bare the names of outstanding scholars who had links with Wrocław and a committee of experts assesses the applications in connection with their areas of research: Ludwik Hirszfeld for biological and medical sciences, Hugo Steinhaus for mathematics, Max Born – physics and chemistry, Jerzy Grotowski – arts, Wincenty Styś – social sciences and humanities, and Jan Mozrzymas – interdisciplinary studies. This year 14 distinctions and 13 scholarships have been granted within six scholarship categories.

Marta Konikiewicz is one of just two people awarded with the Ludwik Hirszfeld scholarship (out of 60 candidates).

– One has to fill in an application form, send it to the Wrocław Academic Centre and wait for potential invitation to the next stage, that is an interview before an expert committee where one has to present research they carry out. on that basis the committee recommends their candidates to the Chapter of Professors which selects “the best of the best”, as it was put by prof. Tadeusz Luty at the Student Scholarship Program diploma ceremony – explains our doctoral student who researches fauna of Parasitengona land mite from …the Baltic amber.

– To be more precise, I research inclusions which I cut out of amber. I managed to obtain them from private collections during my trip to Hamburg, from the museum collection of I.I. Schmalhausen Zoology Institute of the Ukrainian National Science Academy and the Museum of Amber Inclusion at the University of Gdańsk. Thanks to contacts of my supervisor, professor Joanna Mąkol, I managed to go to Moscow to my secondary supervisor, doctor Ekaterina Sidorchuk from the Institute of Paleontology of the Russian Academy of Sciences who created her own method of cutting out and polishing amber plates with inclusions down to even 100 µm thickness. To that purpose she designed a prototype tool which she gave me so that I could prepare amber for analysis by myself. After a specialist training I have become only the second person in the world who works with this technique – smiles Marta Konikiewicz.

Mites preserved in amber which she is researching are about 50 million years old (although, by comparison, she also studies some which are 100 million years old coming from Burmese amber). Both in the past and today the larvae of the majority of species from the land group of Parasitegona have been ectoparasites of invertebrates (the smallest ones are 100 µm long). The unique process of amber development as petrified resin frequently allows to observe representatives of the studied group attached to their hosts thanks to which, there exists a possibility to draw conclusions about the evolution of the parasite-host dependency.

– Till now, thanks to researching amber, we have managed to describe six new species of mite from our group – we have created first full descriptions of Parasitengona land species from the Baltic amber. It seems that the evolution of this group has been relatively slow. After 50 million years we still have representatives of species existing in the past. Another interesting issue is the origin of what is usually called Baltic amber deposits. Research on three of its deposits: Kaliningrad, Bitterfeld and Rivne have shown that it is the same fossil resin called succinite. My research, on the other hand, are supposed to compare the faunistic composition of a given group and finding out whether they appeared in similar conditions or maybe even on the same, though vast, area. The already analyzed material suggests a positive answer, however research on the further taxons is being carried out. Hence, it is clear that the analysis of mite preserved long time ago in amber, together with other invertebrates, may give us a lot of information. This is why many scientists believe that amber is a “window on the world from millions of years ago” – adds Marta Konikiewicz who admits that she would like to continue her scientific career.

Marta Konikiewicz belongs also to a group which has won the Rector’s Award – she is in a team of professor Joanna Mąkol, doctor Grzegorz Zaleśny, doctor Magdalena Felska and Hanna Moniuszko MA, who have all been awarded for a series of publications.