Venom Day 2017

It was that time again, for a large number of herpetologists to clog up the roads and public transport to head to north-west Wales for a single day conference. On the 18th November around 150 of us made the annual pilgrimage to Bangor for Venom Day. For those of you who are not aware, the conference focuses on all things venom (and sometimes poisonous) and organised by the Bangor University Herpetological Society. As always I made my way down on the Friday evening, the day before the main event, to take part in an Oxford-style debate which is often seen as a warm-up to Venom Day. This is also a great time to socialise by either catching up with familiar faces or networking with new people – which is always one of the best things to get out of a conference.

In order to prevent clashes with a number of other conferences that take place at this time of year, the conference returned to its November format. This was a worry of mine as I’m speaking at a conference in early December and Venom Day took place then, last year. For conference veterans among us, you know the drill! Sink a few pints of Guinness and start to network! For those of you who are new to the conference game – beer is the universal currency of the science world (after grant funding and failed lab results). After a liberal amount of alcohol was consumed, we all crawled into bed ready for the big morning to arrive.

Definitely a worthwhile invention and investment for any herpetologists, Clem Kouijzer giving a quick plug for venom defender gloves.

The event is held at the Brambell Building, a giant concrete cubic monstrosity that was probably built in the 1960s. I quickly found a seat, and as always at conferences, started to furiously scribble down some detailed notes from each of the speaker’s talks. The talks ranged from the venom systems in monitor lizards to the existence of potentially currently unrecognised venomous mammal species. Venom Day never ceases to amaze me; all of the talks were truly informative and well delivered. As a scientist I am happy to admit that a couple of aspects in some of them went over my head a little.

Venom is by far not all negative! Danielle McCullough speaking on the targeting of breast cancer signalling pathways with animal venoms.

Venom Day 2017 was comprised of 16 talks (compared to 10 previously) and ranged in length from 5 minutes to 35 minutes. This short time period kept talks interesting and engaging without everyone drifting off to sleep. It also meant that a larger number of more diverse talks could be squeezed into the day and like the year before, everyone was happy to be included in the delegate photo. Up until this year Venom Day was different to most other scientific conferences I have attended in that it didn’t have a poster session. It seems like the organising committee listened to the feedback and for the first time, Venom Day 2017 had a poster session! The poster session was combined with the usual post-talks drinks reception before everyone headed to the local curry house to load up on food before another night of networking.

I’d like to thank everyone that was involved in organising the day, Bangor is a long way for most of us to travel (including me) and as in previous years Venom Day was a complete success! I would also like to thank all of the speakers for delivering some truly informative and eye-opening talk; Emily Knight’s talk on the potential use of venom to treat pancreatic cancer was one that helped to cement the idea in my mind that nature has many more pharmaceutical secrets hidden in plain sight. Thanks to everyone who like me travelled to Bangor for the weekend, you too helped to make it another great experience.

Fighting fire with fire, Emily Knight speaking on the medical applications of venom in terms of treating pancreatic cancer.

Steven Allain
About Steven Allain 7 Articles
Steve is a zoology graduate from Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He is the current chairman of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Amphibian & Reptile Group (CPARG) and helps to organise and coordinate a number of amphibian and reptile surveys around the county to map the distribution of amphibians within Cambridgeshire. Steve has been a blogger for The Wandering Herpetologist and an intern for IUCN SSC Amphibian Red List Authority since last summer. He has recently joined the SAVE THE FROGS! Task Force and is currently carrying out an amphibian based research project in Malaysia. Check out Steve on Twitter (@stevoallain) and find more of his work on ResearchGate.

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