A recent review on vitamin D and evolution questions the traditional view of vitamin D as a driver of skin lightening in Europe and tracks down the development of its multiple functions. Authored by exchange student Andrea Hanel and Professor Carsten Carlberg, the review was published in Biochemical Pharmacology.
Hanel is so far the first student in Carlberg’s group to have her Bachelor’s thesis published in a scientific journal. “She took up the project with a lot of enthusiasm and agreed when I suggested aiming at a publication,” says Carlberg, who is Professor of Biochemistry at UEF’s Institute of Biomedicine in Kuopio.
Presenting a new angle on the topic, the article immediately got a good number of reads in ResearchGate. Carlberg has made it a point to encourage undergraduate students to publish, not just for visibility, but for career prospects. “Publications are what opens doors when applying for PhD positions.”
According to Carlberg, an exchange period lasting the whole academic year can offer hard-working students a good opportunity for a Master’s or Bachelor’s thesis project. For those interested in getting involved with his own Epigenomics of vitamin D research group , a natural first step is to take his lecture courses in Molecular Medicine and Genetics, Molecular Immunology, Cancer Biology, and Nutrigenomics.
These very courses became a turning point for the Czech-born Hanel. Pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Sciences at Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Germany, she originally came to UEF’s Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition for just a four-month Erasmus exchange. However, having come across Carlberg’s courses, she became intrigued by the topics and was convinced she should stay longer in order to take part in all his lectures.
“Even though these courses were above my study level and outside the scope of my exchange, university staff both in Kuopio and in Giessen understood how passionate I felt, so they went out of their way to get me enrolled and to repeatedly extend my stay.”
She says Carlberg opened a whole new dimension of understanding to her. “What resonated with me so strongly was the concept of epigenetic gene regulation in both health and disease – how our whole life including our lifestyle choices is recorded in our epigenome, the gatekeeper for gene activation. I knew I found what I had been looking for, a scientific basis for what I believe in – that our common diseases are at their core a lifestyle choice, and it is our own responsibility to care of ourselves to prevent or reverse them. As he describes in his new book Human Epigenetics: How Science Works, epigenetics provides a molecular explanation for this life philosophy.”
Encouraged by a fellow student, Hanel asked Carlberg for a Bachelor’s thesis project. “I didn’t have any lab skills, so he presented me with the idea of a review article. Lacking background, I felt a lot of pressure about publishing a paper, but I wanted to be worth the investment my favourite professor was willing to make in me,” Hanel recalls.