What effect does poison have on the human body? This will be the key question on Monday evening, 27 February, in the BNN TV programme Proefkonijnen (‘Guinea pigs’). The Wageningen Master's student and snake expert Sterrin Smalbrugge (23) will be providing part of the answer.
Sterrin Smalbrugge (in pink) and her boyfriend Romilly van den Bergh show the presenters of the TV programme Proefkonijnen how to milk a snake. Photo: Peter Schilperoord
The programme looks for answers to extreme questions by doing experiments and talking to experts. In mid-January, they came to Wageningen University & Research to ask Sterrin and her partner Romilly van den Bergh questions about snake poison. ‘When people think of poison, they immediately think of snakes,’ says Sterrin. ‘That's why the presenters Geraldine and Jan wanted to work with snake experts to introduce the subject.’
Romilly milked an inland taipan – the most poisonous snake in the world — and a spectacled cobra in front of the cameras. Meanwhile, Sterrin explained how snake poison affects the body. ‘At first, the presenters were terrified,’ says Sterrin, ‘because they were standing only one metre away from the most poisonous snake on earth. But we talked a lot during and after the recording, and their fear turned into admiration. It was nice to see that change in Geraldine and Jan; those are the moments I live for. Snakes are amazing creatures and there’s nothing to be afraid of as long as you leave them in peace.’
Sterrin had to do a lot of preparation for the recordings. ‘It was certainly a challenge. I’m an ecologist, but poison works at the molecular level. So I had to study a lot for the recordings. Fortunately I have good contacts with snake scientists who could help me.’ The student enjoyed the experience. ‘The programme's objective fits perfectly with my passion: like the programme makers, I want to bring science to the general public.’