Deadly jellyfish "milked" to save lives

August 11, 2015, University of Queensland
Deadly jellyfish "milked" to save lives
Associate Professor Bryan Fry is using a new technique to extract venom from box jellyfish

An international research team led by University of Queensland venomologist Associate Professor Bryan Fry has developed a new technique for 'milking' box jellyfish to extract deadly venom for the development into lifesaving drugs.

Associate Professor Fry said extraction was much more challenging than in snakes and spiders, and research into this type of venom was lagging.

"Jellyfish and other cnidarians are the oldest living venomous creatures, but research has been hampered by a lack of readily obtainable venom harvested in a reproducible manner," he said.

"More papers are published on in a single year than have ever been published on jellyfish venom. The reason is a lack of venom supply.

"Without this raw material, life-saving anti venom cannot be developed, and we can't study how venom components can be developed into new drugs.

"Our method is a practical one that can be used in the field with high efficiency, so it removes a major bottleneck from jellyfish venom research.

"Obtaining venom from these jellyfish has been challenging, and many methods have been used, with some taking more than two weeks while others yield only very tiny amounts of pure venom.

"These previous methods also resulted in the venom being heavily contaminated with material such as mucus."

A sting from a box jellyfish can kill a human in minutes and the pain alone can cause the body to go into deadly shock.

The new method uses ethanol to cause tentacle venom cells – nematocysts – to fire. Immediate firing of the nematocysts allows the researchers to collect venom from the box jellyfish.

Professor Fry said the success of ethanol was ironic, as the substance would actually exacerbate the result of a sting if used as first-aid treatment.

"It is very much a case of doing something that would be the wrong thing from a first-aid perspective, which ironically turns out to be an extremely simple field technique to obtain high-quality venom," he said.

"All aspects of this research come with unique difficulties, such as a handling a delicate animal which is impossible to keep or breed in captivity and is found only in cyclone-prone areas of northern Australia and the Indo-Pacific region, often in crocodile habitat."

"We anticipate that this process will be equally useful for collecting venom from all other jellyfish."

The research has been published in the journal Toxins.

Explore further: Lethal stings from the Australian box jellyfish could be treated with zinc

More information: "Firing the Sting: Chemically Induced Discharge of Cnidae Reveals Novel Proteins and Peptides from Box Jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri) Venom." Toxins 2015, 7, 936-950. DOI: 10.3390/toxins7030936

Related Stories

Mapping lizard venom makes it possible to develop new drugs

February 24, 2015

Lizards and other reptiles are not normally considered venomous, but a number of lizard species actually do produce and use venom. The most classic venomous lizard is no doubt the gila monster – a heavy-bodied lizard. As ...

Taking the heat out of jellyfish stings

December 16, 2013

Everyone has their own theory about how to best relieve the pain of a jellyfish sting, however a team of University of Sydney researchers has examined a host of often-used methods to determine which is the most effective.

Killer sea snail a target for new drugs

July 6, 2015

University of Queensland pain treatment researchers have discovered thousands of new peptide toxins hidden deep within the venom of just one type of Queensland cone snail.

Recommended for you

Scientists discover new 'architecture' in corn

January 21, 2019

New research on the U.S.'s most economically important agricultural plant—corn—has revealed a different internal structure of the plant than previously thought, which can help optimize how corn is converted into ethanol.

Artificially produced cells communicate with each other

January 18, 2019

Friedrich Simmel and Aurore Dupin, researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), have for the first time created artificial cell assemblies that can communicate with each other. The cells, separated by fatty membranes, ...

Using bacteria to create a water filter that kills bacteria

January 18, 2019

More than one in 10 people in the world lack basic drinking water access, and by 2025, half of the world's population will be living in water-stressed areas, which is why access to clean water is one of the National Academy ...

Hand-knitted molecules

January 18, 2019

Molecules are usually formed in reaction vessels or laboratory flasks. An Empa research team has now succeeded in producing molecules between two microscopically small, movable gold tips – in a sense as a "hand-knitted" ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.