Written by Nóra Lehotai and Dhirendra Kumar Singh.
Dhirend joined MIMS in January of 2020 as a fresh postdoc, just escaping the travel limitations of the soon starting corona virus pandemic. He was born in India and for his PhD studies, he chose to study in a small but beautiful town, Szeged, in Hungary. He has been living also in Italy and for the next few years, he is enjoying living in Umeå, in Sweden.
Picture: Profile photo of Dhirendra Kumar Singh. Credit: private photo of Dhirendra Kumar Singh.
Can you tell us about your role at MIMS, what are you working on now?
“I am a postdoc in the Björn Schröder lab, which I joined in January 2020. The overall research focus of the group is to understand how modern dietary habits affect gut microbiota and intestinal defence mechanisms, mainly mucus.”
The major function of intestinal mucus is to protect the epithelium from bacteria by forming a barrier between the intestinal epithelium and the luminal content.
“In my project, I want to understand if this mucus barrier is influenced by our dietary habits. To get an insight into this, I am using fecal microbiota transplant (FMT), where I am transplanting microbiota of humans who are given different dietary interventions into the mice and using different advanced techniques to analyze mucus properties in mouse colon. In addition, I am also interested to uncover the complex innate and acquired immune signals regulating mucus formation after FMT and dietary intervention in mice.”
What were you doing before you joined MIMS and what attracted you to start a position here?
Dhirend did his PhD at the University of Szeged in Hungary.
“During my PhD, I got research and training grants from the Federation of European Microbiological Societies (FEMS) to do part of my PhD work in Italy. My PhD work was mainly focused on host-pathogen interactions but a part of it was to understand the role of fungi in vaginal microbiota. In my short-term visit to Italy, I tried to understand the interaction of pathogenic fungi Candida parapsilosis and bacteria Lactobacillus in vaginal microbiota.”
While studying fungal bacterial interaction, he got more interested in the roles of microbiota in human health. One day after work, he was about to close his laptop and pack his bag, but before doing that he quickly checked his Twitter feed.
“I saw a tweet from Björn looking for a postdoc. I found his research topic very interesting, I prepared my application, applied for the post and now I am here.”
Dhirend also told me that even though he arrived in Umeå before the COVID-19 restrictions, they very soon influenced his everyday life. He was missing going out and enjoying a good pub, which was so easy and fun in Hungary, but soon he adjusted himself to the new normal. He mentioned that it was really good that in Sweden, you could still go into the lab and continue working. That created some social routines within the group as well, so no one felt alone.
If you would not have your current profession, what do you think you would be doing?
“I am from a small town in North India. In my family, my father was very actively involved in the local politics of my town. While growing up, I have seen him working for the welfare of society and the poor. I was thinking to go into politics to do good for society, and I remember once I told him about my interest in politics, but he somehow convinced me to continue my studies. In my school days, I was also very fascinated to join the Indian Army as an officer. That was because my uncle and cousin were in the army, and I was in love with their uniforms and discipline.”
What do you do in your free time and what are you most enjoying in living in Umeå, Sweden?
Like most university students in Umeå, Dhirend also loves IKSU.
“I love to do workouts. Especially lifting weights in the gym. Recently, I also started wall climbing and bouldering.”
He also likes cooking, reading books, going for walks in nature or talking to his family.
“I also watch boxing matches, including UFC fights”-says Dhirend. I love shopping, oftentimes on weekends you can find me checking some clothes in the stores in the city center.
“Back in India, I never saw huge snowfall, I love trying different winter sports, skiing, snowboarding. I also did dog sledding last year, and I loved it.”
He also tried snow bath last year and this year he is planning to do it again with his friends. He also finds it very fascinating to see the aurora. He explains that the most adventurous thing he did in Umeå was skydiving.
“Jumping out from a plane flying 4 km above the ground was fun.”
Picture: Dhirend during skydiving. Credit: UMEÅ FALLSKÄRMSKLUBB.
Is there a little known/interesting fact about yourself?
“I love adventures. Once in life, I want to do solo skydiving. I contacted the training school in Umeå but they only teach in Swedish, unfortunately. Maybe in the future, I will get a chance to learn and jump without an instructor.”
Dhirend is also involved in social work. In his college days, he started to educate poor kids in his hometown in India in his free time.
“Very soon, I want to start a scholarship in my native town in India to provide small financial support to poor kids in completing their education.”