“They have a lot of ancient coding genes” – The good, the bad, and the ugly side of jellyfish.

By Patrick Sharkey,

Jellyfish have drifted along on ocean currents for millions of years, even before dinosaurs lived on the Earth. The jellylike creatures pulse along ocean currents and are abundant in cold and warm.  

Jellyfish have got no brain, heart, bones, or eyes. That doesn’t stop one person from giving out her heart to Jellyfish and that is Jellyfish expert Cheryl Ames who says: “From a human perspective, that is a really tricky question. Well, in a sense, they are a foe and I think they offer many things that we could say would make good friends. I will start with the positives because we know a lot of the negatives and a couple of obvious things. Because they are ancient organisms, we estimate they have been on the planet in this form for about 600 million years and they have had lots of chances to adapt to a lot of environments that other organisms can’t because they are highly diverse and because of their genus. “

Ames added; “They have a lot of ancient coding genes in them that a lot of animals, even you know humans still use for prophecies and they have this really crazy ability to make other proteins we cannot, for example, you know about the Nobel lorilet in chemistry in 2008 by  Osamu Shimomura and he discovered the green fluorescent protein in the aquaria jellyfish and that you know sounds really great.”

“A Jellyfish could make itself glow. Right humans can’t you know? You see it in all sorts of superheroes, comic books and stuff. A jellyfish can do that, and they don’t have a brain right and it’s not even just the fact that they have this ancient ability to use this chemical that we think we could find from mating and finding mates, it’s other recognition itself. Also, humans were able to take this and incorporate it as a tool that not only could be for basic research but also in cancer research and all sorts of things that familiarised the medical field.”

“You can’t ever imagine since that discovery, it has almost been two decades ago but not only to find it but you know to implement it into cancer research and things like that. It allows you to watch glowing cancer cells move that you otherwise would not know how they are moving.”

“You know treating cancer patients, preventing anastasis. So that is a really good thing to have in a friend and then there are lots of other peptides, active proteins and collagen. The medical field could not function the way they do without jellyfish collagen. A really important component is an effective biomaterial for cell cultures and wound care and collagen regeneration in humans. Right so we are using jellyfish to grow back our own cells and that is an essential thing because you know people get injured all the time and are also feeding the world. Jellyfish are feeding Chinese people. Especially along the coast, Jellyfish is eaten every single day and going back to that high protein collagen. There are also huge sources of gelatine in countries that cannot consume animal-based gelatine either for religious or cultural purposes.”

“These polymers can be used in food, health and cosmetics and in biomedical related industry.”

“Also the stinging cells in jellyfish are by all intends of purpose foe, being manipulated to deliver minute-sized drugs into cells being tested on humans and obviously other mammals because of the mechanism by which stinging cells can rapidly inject the venom into the cells of either predator or they are mimicking that model to do that, tiny little cells such as cancer cells and human cells. So that is you know aquaculture of jellyfish bringing in a huge amount of money in southeast Asia and even to the other areas like the UK and also North America because of jellyfish in the United States.”

“They fish all these jellyfish and they can grow all these jellyfish to export to China and South East Asia. They get a lot of money from that and in fact, I think 20 years ago even the catch of jellyfish in South East Asian countries was something like 21,000 metric tonnes. I’m sure it has grown since then”.

“What they offer in terms of public aquariums, it is also an economic thing in turn helps us understand their life cycles”.

“So, we can know when they might bloom or what sort of triggers. They are also helping to keep humans on their toes. If you know that you have a lot of runoff with really festerous runoff into an area, then wow, six to eight months later you are going to have a massive jellyfish bloom. So that is direct evidence for saying ‘Let’s reduce or waste, let’s enact programs and policies that prevent waste runoff’ for that very purpose because it becomes a public safety issue. So keeping us on our toes, there is a very visible way to do that. Also, upside-down jellyfish, jellyfish I have done a lot of work on, they have symbiosis, bright symbiosis in their cells and are so much like corals, if corals bleach then you know people respond quickly. You know they say if there is something damaging the water, the water is too hot and so the coals are rejecting these allergies and if you can look at that with jellyfish, then you can get an indication with global temperatures seasonally or overall increasing whether or not by jellyfish bleach too and so they are actually in a sense a biomonitoring tool for climate and can be useful for conservation. So, there are so many ways jellyfish eat other jellyfish so they can also live off the land or the ocean per se. So, they are good at recycling nutrients per se with the food web. They also are huge, huge food sources for really important animals obviously in the ocean that are all organisms but for charismatic things like sea turtles or sunfish.”

“Okay, so that is the friend part and the foe part I think it really goes without saying. They can sting and some are deadly, so being aware of where they are is going to be very important for people who want to live around the ocean”.

Jellyfish are aquatic creatures that belong to the phylum Cnidaria, which also includes coral and sea.  

Jellyfish remain known for their bell-shaped, translucent bodies and their long, trailing tentacles.

Jellyfish come in a wide range of colours, including pink, blue, yellow, and purple. Cheryl talks about this fact as it is all about the diet as the Associate Professor says:” What do they eat? So, they are all carnivores. So, they eat anything that is generally swimming in water and so depending on the size of the jellyfish and sometimes the size of the jellyfish’s mouth which is a long tube that is attached to its stomach.”

Professor Ames added: “So whatever they take in, they digest it and then whatever waste that comes out, it comes out the same tube and plankton, generally zooplankton binds in the stomachs.”

“You see you know in the vicinity, a lot of the jellyfish that I study are nocturnal, so they come to the surface. You can shine a light and that is where all the plankton are. They provide a service, and the jellyfish are up there feeding. Jellyfish that I study, are box jellyfish, which are highly venomous ones. Sometimes they can be really tiny like a thimble and sometimes they can be really big too so five centimetres in height. Still, we have seen some of these really toxic jellyfish just a couple of centimetres high in just a fish, attach their tentacle to a fish passing by, paralyse it and insert a fish that is twice its padding size into its mouth and turn it sideways and digest it entirely and release only like the scales and the other silvery bits. So, they eat a lot, and they contribute a lot.”