Welcome to Evolution Bites! Also look at http://www.venomhunter.com!
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Already in my early teens, I felt like I was missing something in my little country........ Now, years later, I realize that I was missing mosquitos and leech- infested rainforests, hot, sweaty deserts, and wet, stinky swamps. I am driven by my love and wonderment for the natural world, its inhabitants, and how it all fits together.
Ever since I was a kid I was fully into all things crawling, slithering, jumping and swimming... frogs, spiders, lizards, scorpions, fish, I loved them all! After I touched my first snake at age 14, I was sold and I knew my life would never be the same anymore. What a dramatic life-changing experience that was! I sometimes wonder how my life would have been now if I would not have fallen in love with snakes, but than I realize that it was not a matter of "if" but "when" I would fall in love with snakes. It breaks my heart that so many people kill snakes and other animals for fun, just because they don't understand them. In the broadest sense of the word, education is the main key to establish a good relationship between people and environment. That's why I try to change people's perpspective on the "scary" critters that inhabit our planet and have such an important role in the natural world.
The more I learned about snakes, the more fascinated I became. I started to build my very own collection of snakes. Some of the snakes I kept were highly venomous and potentially deadly, and I even managed to breed some of them. I also started to milk some of my snakes for providing venom to research facilities. But, although this gave some satisfaction, it was not enough; my hunger for knowledge was never completely satisfied. I decided to become a biologist and started a study biology at Leiden University in The Netherlands. I fantasized about doing my own research, and making new and fascinating discoveries. What is cooler than discovering things nobody else knew before? Curiousity is my fuel for moving forward.
Along the way I learned that in the world of venomous and poisonous animals snakes are truly 'lord and master', there is no other animal with a more advanced venom-delivery system than the snake. One of my research quests is to learn more about their venom-system. How did snakes evolve such a sophisticated weaponry? What genetic and developmental events were responsible for this? For example, we have shown that snake fangs could evolve because of a relatively minor developmental change in the dentition at the rear part of the snake's upper jaw. Read more here.
The venom itself is a true goldmine for the pharmaceutical industries and drug development. Because snake venom composition is highly variable, with both intra- and inter-specific venom differences, the hunt for new usefull venom compounds is never ending. One of our challenges, in the laboratory of my Professor Michael Richardson at Leiden University, involves developing a high-throughput screening system based on zebrafish for testing thousands of venom samples on pharmacological activities in short periods of time. This will enable us to look for specific usefull venom compounds in the incredible diversity of different snake venoms, and the venoms of other venomous animals (spiders, scorpions, fish, etc.), using the same screening system. Such a system will save a huge amount of time and effort.
I also perform a lot of fieldwork to obtain samples for our research, be it the collection of venom or DNA. I uploaded a selected number of photo's of some of these worldwide field expeditions. As they continue to take place on a regular basis, I update this website, including the photo's, regularly. It is expected that soon the content will be available in multiple languages, for starters in Dutch. It is also expected that the presented information on snakes will be expanded, as well as new information about additional groups of venomous animals, like Cone snails, spiders, and scorpions.
I further wish to thank you for your visit to this website and hope you'll like it and return soon. You can always comment in my guestbook!