Researchers discover an antidote to deadly Australian box jellyfish sting

Pain researchers have discovered an antidote to Australia's deadly box jellyfish by using DNA sequencing and genome editing techniques.

One of the world's most venomous creatures, the terrifying marine species found in warm waters of northern parts of Australia has 60 tentacles that can grow up to three meters long.

Each tentacle carries around one million microscopic hooks filled with venom, able to kill dozens of humans in just minutes.

But thanks to breakthrough research from the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre on Wednesday, there may soon be a new medicine able to treat the sting.

Box jellyfish wounds to leg. (Photo: VCG)

"We were looking at how the venom works, to try to better understand how it causes pain," associate professor Greg Neely who was part of the team that made the discovery said.

"Using new CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) genome editing techniques we could quickly identify how this venom kills human cells."

"Luckily, there was already a drug that could act on the pathway the venom uses to kill cells, and when we tried this drug as a venom antidote on mice, we found it could block the tissue scarring and pain related to jellyfish stings."

"It is super exciting!"

In the study, researchers added box jellyfish venom to a vat of millions of human cells and used genome editing – which allows scientists to add, remove or alter genetic material in an organism's DNA – to find out which cells survived.

By doing so, the team was able to pinpoint the human factors that are required for the venom to work.

"The jellyfish venom pathway we identified in this study requires cholesterol, and since there are lots of drugs available that target cholesterol, we could try to block this pathway to see how this impacted venom activity," lead author of the study Raymond Lau explained.

"It's a molecular antidote. It's the first molecular dissection of how this type of venom works, and possibly how any venom works."

The researchers are now looking for assistance so they can make the medicine available to the public.

(Top image via VCG)