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Most Venomous Creature on Earth Now a Bit Less Scary

Researchers say they've found an antidote for box jellyfish stings
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted May 1, 2019 8:52 AM CDT
A box jellyfish is shown.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – The world’s most venomous creature is not a snake but a jellyfish, and researchers say they have found an antidote for its lethal sting. The Australian box jellyfish has roughly 60 tentacles that can stretch up to 10 feet in length and are studded with microscopic hooks containing venom. One sting can cause skin necrosis, violent vomiting, heart attacks, and a sense of "impending doom," per the AFP. More serious stings can kill within minutes: The creature packs enough venom to kill more than 60 people, per a University of Sydney press release. Pain researchers there took the novel approach of using "molecular dissection" on the venom. Using CRISPR genome editing technologies, they essentially removed a different human gene from each of millions of human cells, introduced the venom, and saw which ones weren't killed, reports the Australian Associated Press.

Typically, human cells die within five minutes of encountering the venom, the researchers write at the Conversation. But they found gene-edited cells that persisted for two weeks. In examining those cells, the AFP reports they discovered cholesterol needed to be present in order for the venom to work. "Since there are lots of drugs available that target cholesterol" the team tested types of cyclodextrins capable of removing cholesterol, per CNN. "It worked," says lead author Raymond Lau. He calls the end result a "molecular antidote" that needs to be applied to the skin (ideally as a cream or spray—one has yet to be developed) within 15 minutes of the sting in order to block symptoms like extreme pain and necrosis. What the researchers aren't sure of yet is whether it can prevent a heart attack. The study was published in Nature Communications. (What this man learned after letting 83 insects sting him.)

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