The new research involved a box jellyfish venom tested in human cells grown in the lab. The transparent box jellyfish is one of the Earth’s most venomous animals, living in the tropical waters with a 3 meter long trail, and steamer-like tentacles always ready to inject a potential fatal and extremely painful venom.
Of the various species of box jellyfish, Chironex fleckeri is known as one of the most fatal. Its pique can generate cardiac arrest in humans but researchers have not been able to exactly explain how its venom works so now, a team of scientists have dissected a jellyfish with a powerful DNA editing tool, known as CRISPR, and found a potential new way to block the deadly substance.
Using CRISPR, a tool which can cut the DNA, the team was able to create human cells with particular genes turned off, so then when they injected the human cells with the jellyfish venom, they could see which cells died or lived and detect which genes were crucial for keeping the cell alive.
Greg Neely, a functional geneticist at the University of Sydney, who conducted the research said that what they actually do is creating millions of human cells and then use the CRISPR to knock out every gene in the human genome.
To understand the experiment better, think of a library where every book is exactly the same. The team pulled out one copy and ripped out a page from it, then took another copy and pulled out a different page, doing this hundreds of times. Now the library is full of different variants of the same book, but each without a different page from the story.
The team was searching for the page that is crucial to the story – the key gene in the human genome that would make the venom useless.
Researchers were able to discover which human genes caused the venom to be do lethal and which pathway the venom utilized to kill the cells. They discovered that four specific genes from a cholesterol regulation route were crucial in this process. There are also drugs for these pathways so the team decided to see how the medication would react in preventing the venom from acting on the cells. The drugs worked, and more importantly, blocked the deadly substance even 15 minutes after toxins were released.
Neely said that the medication is known to act by pulling cholesterol out of the cell membrane so what the venom needs is membrane cholesterol to have effect so, by closing this pathway for a short period of time, the venom pathway can be shut down.
The research team will look to collaborate with first responders and government to release the antidote as potential treatment for human use in case of a box jellyfish spike.
The study was published in Nature Communications on April 30.
Sara Liard is a seasoned journalist with 15 years experience as a reporter. While studying journalism at The Art Institute of California, Sacramento, Sara wrote her thesis political corruption at the municipal level. As a contributor to Swerd Media Sarah mostly covers politics.