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

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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