Inspired by snake venom
Freek Vonk travels throughout the world carrying out scientific research and recording TV programmes. He milks the venom of dangerous snakes as part of his evolutionary research and in his quest for new medicines. Back in the lab, he tests the application of the venom in medicines, including antibiotics. PhD defence 6 September.
Vonk is fascinated and inspired by animals. 'But snakes will always be my first and greatest love,' he writes. His passion for these reptiles is abundantly clear from the enthusiasm with which he talks and writes about them.
For the 'Animals in the Wild' series, Vonk and radio and tv presenter Eddy Zoëy were in Suriname, where they were looking for the giant anaconda, the world's biggest snake. Not only were they looking for the snake for the tv programme, they also wanted to acquire some reptile blood for scientific research, both to show the diversity of the animal world, and also as part of the quest for antibiotics.
With his PhD research, Vonk provides evidence for the idea that the toxin genes of snakes evolve in different ways and are therefore more flexible than was previously thought. This is an important discovery because it means that different substances in the snake venom offer opportunities for pharmaceutical science.
Many medicines originate from knowledge about biochemical substances derived from plants and animals. One of the hypotheses in Vonk's dissertation reflects this:
|Protecting and preserving biodiversity is immensely important not only for the future of our planet, but also for the future of mankind and for human health.|
Vonk's PhD research was funded by a Toptalent scholarship that allows creative young researchers to determine their PhD track themselves. He has also received a number of other grants, including a Rubicon.
Vonk presents the youth series ‘Freek on Safari’, that was shown in the Klokhuis programme for children and is regularly broadcast in Dutch TV programme ‘De Wereld Draait Door’. He is now one of the Netherlands' most famous biologists.
(31 August 2012)
Title: Snake evolution and the application of snake venom
Date: Thursday 6 September 2012
Time: 10.00 hrs
PhD supervisor: Professor M.K. Richardson
- Institute of Biology/Freek Vonk
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Health, Prevention and the Human life cycle is one of the six themes for research at Leiden University.