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Scientists Are 'Milking' Deadly Jellyfish For Medicine

11 August 2015, 4:33 pm EDT By Andrea Alfano Tech Times
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How does one milk a deadly jellyfish? Scientists have come up with a more effective method for harvesting venom from jellyfish that they can use to develop better anti-venoms and other new drugs.  ( Jan Bielecki, Alexander K. Zaharoff, Nicole Y. Leung, Anders Garm, Todd H. Oakley | Wikimedia )

Within the strange, squishy bodies of box jellyfish is a substance so potent that a single sting can kill a human in minutes. However, that isn't stopping scientists from getting up close and personal with them.

The deadliness of box jellyfish venom means that harvesting it — a process known as "milking" — is all the more crucial.

"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," lead researcher Bryan Fry of the University of Queensland said in a statement.

With a new technique that Fry and his colleagues detail in the journal Toxins, milking box jellyfish still sounds easier then ever — though it still sounds terrifying. They found that alcohol causes the box jellyfish's venom cells to fire on demand. This allows the scientists to collect venom directly from the the cells, before it can become contaminated with slimy jellyfish mucus and other substances.

"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," Fry said in a statement.

This faster, alcohol-enabled technique could eliminate the issue of acquiring venom samples that has been a bottleneck in jellyfish venom research. The researchers expect that the method will work for other types of jellyfish as well.

For all of the damage that venoms have caused in the world, they have made significant contributions to medical research. Bee venom, for example, has been used as a multi-purpose treatment for millennia. By increasing the availability of jellyfish venom to researchers, the hope is that they will find a multitude of uses for this venom, too.

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