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Medicine Biotech

The Life-Saving Gifts of the World's Most Venomous Animal (newyorker.com) 49

tedlistens writes: It was a terrible sting off the coast of Hawaii that inspired Angel Yanagihara, a biology researcher, to spend her life studying the bizarre culprit. Comprising some 50 species, box jellyfish are not like other jellyfish: they have 24 eyes, can move with intention and at surprising speed, and have something resembling a brain. They are also considered to be among the most venomous animals on Earth, killing more people every year than sharks do. Once inside the body, its venom acts "like buckshot" on blood cells. One species, the four-pound, nine-foot-long sea wasp, is said to have enough venom at any one time to kill ninety to one hundred and twenty humans.

As ocean currents and biomes change, various species of dangerous box jellyfish have shown up in places where they have not recently been abundant, including Japan, India, Israel, Florida, and the Jersey Shore. But compared to other venoms, research on jellyfish has remained in the dark ages. New methods for collecting venom—including one that relies on beer—along with a better understanding of box-jelly biochemistry may point to better non-antibiotic protections from them, and to novel defenses for humans against other fatal infections from anthrax and the antibiotic-resistant "superbug" MRSA, says Yanagihara. (Venoms are already the basis of a handful of FDA-approved drugs that have generated billions for the pharma industry.) Now the U.S. military is helping to fund Yanagihara's research, and applying a cream she developed to thwart box jellyfish, which have already left serious stings on a dozen Army divers at a training facility in Florida, and forced one diver out of the program.

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The Life-Saving Gifts of the World's Most Venomous Animal

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  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2015 @06:24PM (#50721625)

    As ocean currents and biomes change, various species of dangerous box jellyfish have shown up in places where they have not recently been abundant, including Japan, India, Israel, Florida, and the Jersey Shore.

    Is it too much to hope that one of these little guys could, maybe, take care of Snooki for us? I'm just sayin'.

    • by jd ( 1658 )

      Typically, venomous creatures are immune to a wide range of toxins.

    • Maybe they were talking about the original Jersey in Europe, not New Jersey.

      Unless of course the idiot who wrote the article assumes everyone is familiar with a trash MTV reality show.

      • "Jersey Shore" is a term for the New Jersey coastline. The show was named after an already well-known area; maybe the writer was more familiar with the area than the crappy show.
  • by tompaulco ( 629533 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2015 @06:27PM (#50721649) Homepage Journal
    For all the hoopla, sharks don't kill very many people. The fact that Box Jellyfish kill more people than sharks do is unimpressive. In the U.S., the country with the most shark attacks, one person is killed about every other year.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I think the statistics paint quite a different picture when you include sharks with lasers.

      • by The Real Dr John ( 716876 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2015 @07:05PM (#50721939) Homepage

        Great, but why the hoopla over billions of profits for the pharmaceutical industry? The gouging of consumers with higher and higher drug prices is not a plus. I am not enthralled with the prospect of more huge profits for the drug companies. That money comes from people, many of whom really can't afford to jack up the profits for the wealthy people running big pharma.

        • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2015 @07:38PM (#50722145) Homepage

          According TFA, ACE inhibitors, a very useful, very common and now very inexpensive medication came from the venom of the Brazilian somethingorother viper. Yes, it went through the period of time when it wasn't generic but once the general active structure was worked out, there was a time when there was the ACE inhibitor of the week club. The dozen or so competing drugs kept the prices sort of reasonable.

          So yeah, Big Pharma gets it's cut, but for small molecules (as opposed to biologics which are antibodies which are much harder to manufacture*), once the structure gets out, it's pretty much all over for the original company. The point being that venoms are biologically interesting molecules. Nature has manufactured structures that do neat things to other cells (blow them up, gum up the power plant and a host of other mechanisms). Once we know the structure, we can tweak it. Protein chemistry has come to a point where determining the structure of a complex molecule is basically a PhD thesis. Then you can work on smaller molecules (easier to make) that can modulate the original enzyme. So a whole new class of venoms is a big deal.

          * biologicals are now being manufactured by the generics (isn't progress wonderful). Big Pharma is fighting back by trying to get those manufacturers to go through the clinical trials showing safety and utility - a huge time and expense. The problem (from a libertarian point of view) is that Big Pharma has a couple of good points. Biologics aren't the 'same' molecule - they're close. But until we have a lot more experience with them, it is not unreasonable to do the clinical trials. The generic manufacturers, of course, have a different view.

    • With numbers that large, we need to start a War On Sharks.

      • Then I really would start to worry, every problem we declare war on gets worse.
      • by youngone ( 975102 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2015 @07:35PM (#50722137)
        I know you're being funny, but there really is a war on sharks, and the Chinese are winning.

        Every year they kill something like 100 million sharks, although as there is an awful lot of illegal fishing, the figure could be twice that. If that rate of slaughter continues, one of the oldest types of animals in the Earth's oceans will become extinct in our lifetimes.

        According to Wikipedia, sharks have been around for something like 420 million years, which makes them hugely successful. One of the few creatures older are the Jellyfish, so I wonder what will happen to the Jellyfish populations when the sharks are gone?

        Sorry, one of my pet hates, and I'm ranting a bit now.

        • One of the few creatures older are the Jellyfish, so I wonder what will happen to the Jellyfish populations when the sharks are gone?

          Jelly fish taste reasonably good, so no big deal. :)

        • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

          I know you're being funny, but there really is a war on sharks, and the Chinese are winning.
          Every year they kill something like 100 million sharks, although as there is an awful lot of illegal fishing, the figure could be twice that. If that rate of slaughter continues, one of the oldest types of animals in the Earth's oceans will become extinct in our lifetimes.

          I don't think there's much "legal" shark hunting going on - finning is basically an undercover operation these days. Albeit, it's done out in the o

      • by Trogre ( 513942 )

        Why? Do we need more of them?

        (Actually after some background reading I see they are endangered so some might argue we do need more of them)

    • by xevioso ( 598654 )

      The article says upwards of 40 are killed in the Phillippines every year.

      More importantly, these sorts of jellyfish are expected to become more common.

    • Although the U.S. has more historically documented shark attacks in total, Australia is some way out in front when it comes to fatal shark attack: http://www.sharkattackdata.com... [sharkattackdata.com] Over the last few years there have been around 3 fatal attacks per year in Australian coastal waters. Not a great many, but more than "every other year". When it comes to numbers per head of population, it's not even close! We like to swim and surf, and share our waters with relatively large numbers of potentially dangerous sh
    • Over what time period? It's been trending upward lately and is higher than that, but yes, I still agree with the spirit of your statement. However, we should also be comparing the number of serious shark bites to the number of jellyfish stings with long-term consequences. There are quite a few swimmers who tangled with sharks and are now missing an arm, a foot, part of a hip, etc. So... what about the number of people who are stung and don't die but are plagued with issues for years following the sting? Doe
  • Sorry Japan, India, Israel, and Florida, but your sacrifice will serve the greater good.
  • by Harlequin80 ( 1671040 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2015 @07:07PM (#50721961)

    The Irukanji jellyfish is an extremely fucking nasty box jellyfish which is predominately found off the north coast of Australia. Originally it was thought to be localised to that area but they now know they are far more distributed. This jelly fish is the one that has been found off the coast of Japan, India, and Florida. But the thing is they are tiny, about 1cm3 so unless you are getting instances of the syndrome they are really hard to detect.

    There is nothing about changing currents or biomes that can be tied to the location of those creatures. They are just really really small so unless you are looking for them you won't see them. I mean it took researchers 12 years to find the damn things in the first place when the syndrome was originally identified and they knew where to look.

  • Before I read the summary, can someone tell me if this is a story about Australian death adders? Those goddamn things scare the crap out of me, so if it's about them I'm outta here.

    • Why those ones in particular? What about King Browns, or Red Belly Blacks? Red Bellys are pretty good swimmers too.....

  • I read that slefies kills moe people than sharks every year. Is this fist more dangerous than selfies ? Or are selfies still on top as the most dangerous animal in the world ?

  • ...divers does the Army have??? Maybe the Navy is running a covert jellyfish operation to get the Army out of the diving business.
  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @09:41AM (#50725283) Journal

    Seriously, ANOTHER thread about Hilary Clinton?

  • One species is said to have enough venom at any one time to kill ninety to one hundred and twenty humans.

    Ah, I see they discovered my ex.

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