Researchers hunt venom clues in deadly jellyfish

4 February 2021

With its ability to deliver hundreds of thousands of venom injections at once, the box jellyfish has been labelled the most lethal creature known to humans.

The Irukandji jellyfish is another deadly risk for beachgoers— only two centimetres in diameter, its transparent body is hard to spot.

The main safety advice is to completely avoid sharing the waters with these jellyfish, especially as current anti-venoms don’t always work.

The Institute for Molecular Bioscience houses one of the largest libraries of venoms in the world, and Professor Glenn King carries out venom-based drug discovery to find treatments for a variety of conditions such as stroke, chronic pain and epilepsy.

Hunting down the elusive toxins

“We are now familiar with the toxins of the redback spider, Australian funnel-web spider and most of Australia’s venomous snakes, but the deadly toxins of these jellyfish remain a mystery,” he said.

Professor King and his team is now hoping to hunt down these elusive toxins.

Thanks to success in the 2020/2021 Australia and New Zealand HiFi SMRT Grant Program, the genome of the box jellyfish and the Irukandji jellyfish will now be revealed.

Leading to better anti-venoms

By sequencing the genomes of these two jellyfish, the researchers will be able to compare their toxin arsenals to explain why the toxins of these jellyfish are so deadly, yet have evolved to kill in different ways.

Dr Cheong Xin Chan, Cebrina Nolan, Dr Andrew Walker and Professor Glenn King

“Box jellyfish venom primarily affects our hearts, but we don’t yet know why Irukandji jellyfish venom is so lethal—we are keen to understand how the venoms work and hope this will lead to the development of better anti-venoms or other treatments,” Professor King said.

“The Hi-Fi sequencing from PacBio allows us to sequence very long stretches of DNA which makes it perfect for whole genome projects like this one.”

Professor King, Dr Cheong Xin Chan, Cebrina Nolan and Dr Andrew Walker will be partnering with jellyfish expert Professor Jamie Seymour from James Cook University to solve this toxic puzzle.

At IMB, we are bringing cures for deadly diseases out of the darkness, help us discover the unknown in venom.

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