Venom Day 2018

This December, Bangor University hosted its ninth Venom Day conference, in which researchers get together to talk about the most recent studies of venomous and poisonous animals.

As I studied for my own degree in Bangor, Venom Day provides a great annual opportunity to go back to a city I love, meet old friends, make new ones, and listen to some fascinating lectures! There are plenty of opportunities to socialise and network, both before and during the event; many of the attendees got together for a light-hearted quiz the night before. I was also able to get a copy of Mark O’Shea’s new book, The Book of Snakes, which features descriptions and photos of six hundred species of snake, almost one in six of all the currently recognised species in the world!

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There were multiple lectures on the skin secretions of frogs, which are being utilised in both the development of new antibiotics and the treatment of diabetes. Kim Roelants gave an interesting talk on how anti-microbial peptides (AMPs) help to defend a frog from predators, by faciliating the absorption of the frog’s defensive toxins when the predator makes contact.

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Other talks I particularly liked included:

  • Wolfgang Wuster’s talk on venom variation in the Mohave rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus) and efforts to determine whether this variation is primarily determined by diet, climate, or random genetic divergence between populations.
  • Ronald Jenner’s talk on differing venom composition in the five different lineages of centipede; he opened his lecture with some examples of centipede bites on humans and other animals, including a video of a man suffering a very painful bite from a Scolopendra heros.
  • Matt Gardiner’s talk on the slow loris (Nycticebus spp.), the world’s only venomous primate, which has also been talked about on previous Venom Days; this particular study regarded a survey of research and rescue centre staff who had been bitten by slow lorises, and the symptoms they experienced.
  • Nicholas Casewell’s talk on studying another venomous mammal, the Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus) – little is known about the venom of this animal, so this study aimed to determine its composition and likely function.
  • Jasmine Headlam’s talk on the testing of different jellyfish sting treatments, specifically lion’s mane and Portuguese man of war, which can both be found in British waters. The conclusion was that vinegar and a hot pack are most effective.

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Towards the end of the day, there were lectures on addressing the problem of snakebite in India. Anatoli Togridou, who works with Ben Owens and Vishal Santra (whom I volunteered with in Himachal Pradesh earlier this year), gave her lecture on taking a preventative approach to snakebite. She described ongoing efforts to educate the local communities of Himachal Pradesh on how to avoid snakebites and what to do if the worst happens. This has involved determining their existing knowledge of different aspects of the issue (e.g. how to access appropriate treatment, how to recognise venomous snakes); one of the recommendations is increased engagement with traditional healers, who are often the first people that a snakebite patient will turn to.

Meanwhile, Shaleen Attre talked about the efforts of the Indian Snakebite Initiative, which has not only made progress in educating Indian communities on snakes, but has established a national-level network, mapped records of both dangerous snakes and hospitals with antivenom, and helped to minimise snakebites among those who were affected by the floods in Kerala this summer.

It was another excellent Venom Day overall – thank you to everybody who organised it, as well as of all of the speakers!

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