Milking Deadly Jellyfish For Lifesaving Drugs

Researchers have found a way to make box jellyfish sting on demand, making venom retrieval easier and safer.

AsianScientist (Aug. 20, 2015) – A research team led by The University of Queensland venomologist Associate Professor Bryan Fry has developed a new technique for milking box jellyfish to extract deadly venom for the development of lifesaving drugs.

By making jellyfish venom more easily accessible, the new technique facilitated the identification of previously uncharacterized venom components. The research has been published in the journal Toxins.

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 of extraction 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. The success of ethanol was ironic, said Fry, 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,” Fry said.

Extracting venom from box jellyfish is much more challenging than in snakes and spiders. The lack of a readily obtainable and repeatable extraction method has hampered research in jellyfish venom, Fry said.

“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,” he added.

The Fry’s method can be used with high efficiency, removing a bottleneck from jellyfish venom research. Previous techniques usually brings only a low yield and heavy contamination by biological fluids like mucus.

The authors anticipate that this technique can also be used on other jellyfish to obtain their venom in an efficient manner. Their work allowed more in-depth characterization of the jelly fish venom to identify previously unknown components of the venom. It paves a way for future drug development and understanding of how jellyfish toxins act.

The article can be found at: Jouiaei et al. (2015) Firing the Sting: Chemically Induced Discharge of Cnidae Reveals Novel Proteins and Peptides from Box Jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri) Venom.


Source: The University of Queensland.
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