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New toxins put sting in box jellyfish venom

Scientists at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute have discovered a novel family of toxins in the venom of box jellyfish.

The world-first research analysed the toxins and proteins which make up box jellyfish venom – the deadliest on the planet.

Dr Jason Mulvenna from QIMR Berghofer said the analysis also identified unique proteins not previously known to scientists.

“We discovered that box jellyfish have an abundance of these potent new toxins – along with compounds we already know from other venoms such as snakes and spiders,” Dr Mulvenna said.

Box jellyfish toxins act rapidly, and in severe cases are capable of inducing cardio-respiratory arrest within a few minutes.

QIMR Berghofer immunologist Associate Professor John Miles said the stings trigger a massive inflammatory response which speeds up the movement of the venom throughout the body.

“We believe the rapid response is driven by a certain class of protein released by the immune system,” Associate Professor Miles said.

Box jellyfish can be difficult to spot in the water and are often found in the shallows, near tidal creeks and around boat ramps.

Dr Mulvenna said researchers at QIMR Berghofer had been surprised to discover that a full chemical analysis of box jellyfish venom had never previously been undertaken.
“World-wide, stingers are generally considered to take more lives in the ocean than sharks, and have a massive economic impact on the northern Australian economy,” Dr Mulvenna said.

QIMR Berghofer is investigating venoms to see if they contain compounds which could be used to super-charge the immune system to fight diseases such as cancer.

Dr Mulvenna’s paper on box jellyfish venom has been published in the journal BMC Genomics: