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Reef Report for Thursday, August 5, 2004

Medical Potential Found In Great Barrier Reef Jellyfish

Recent research into stinging a set of species of tiny jellyfish found along the Great Barrier Reef has turned up a rare species that may someday yield a medicine, which may be useful in human reproductive medicine.

Irukandji are a group of small jellyfish, distributed throughout the tropical regions of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Many are very small, with their main bodies only a centimeter across, and just four tentacles.

However, these tentacles can sometimes pack a wallop. They have stinging cells that can deliver venom, whose potency varies, capable of causing a range of symptoms from a barely noticeable stinging sensation to a set of symptoms called Irukandji Syndrome, which can be life threatening.

It was a careful observation of symptoms of a sting victim by Dr. Peter Fenner, a physician in Mackay, a coastal city along the Great Barrier Reef that led to the discovery of a new species of Irukandji. Dr. Fenner noticed that male patients stung by Irukandji from parts of the Whitsunday Islands had one more symptom not found in most victims. This is a family web site, so let’s just say that the symptom closely mimicked that action of the prescription drug Viagra.

James Cook University researcher Lisa-Ann Gershwin, an expert on Irukandji, believes she has identified the species of jellyfish involved, one she recently discovered and as yet unnamed or described scientifically.

Many medicines are derived from venoms and toxins, and if the component in this jellyfish venom is identified, it would be the next step in developing a medical application for it. Recently Ms. Gershwin’s research developed techniques that have enabled scientists to raise Irukandji in the lab will also be important in learning more about these very rare organisms, which are extremely difficult to collect.

We may have a long time to wait for results. In the meantime Ms. Gershwin advises men not to bypass medical research and go out and get stung as a way to improve their social lives. She very wryly noted, "Irukandji Syndrome is not something you do to prepare for a date."

Learn More

About this species of Irukandji.

About culturing Irukandji in the lab.

About Australian stinging Jellyfish.

(C) DiveTheReef The weekly reef report is written by Joel Groberg of DiveTheReef.com, who compiles them from the many conversations he has with dive staff in the area, as well as  many other local sources in the dive community.

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