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Jellyfish Venom “Milked”

A new technique to “milk” the deadly venom of box jellyfish could help the development of lifesaving drugs.

A/Prof Bryan Fry of The University of Queensland said that it’s more challenging to extract venom from box jellyfish than snakes and spiders. “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 snake venom 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 2 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.”

The new method, published in Toxins, uses ethanol to stimulate the jellyfish’s nematocysts to fire, enabling researchers to collect the venom secreted. Fry said the success of ethanol is ironic, as the substance would actually exacerbate a sting if used as first-aid treatment.

“We anticipate that this process will be equally useful for collecting venom from all other jellyfish,” Fry said.