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Australian Lions Stinger Research Current & Recent Projects

Current & Recent Projects

The Trust has provided research grants to the following projects in recent years:

2021

Lead researcher: Emily O’Hara  (PhD Candidate)

Jellyfish have stinging organelles called the nematocysts which have spines and a tubule which can penetrate prey to inject venom. To fully understand the ecological role of these organelles and further comprehend the role venom injection plays in sting victims, this project aims to image and 3d print both the discharged and undischarged nematocysts from both polyp and medusa life stages of the irukandji jellyfish Carukia barnesi and Malo maxima.

Hypotheses exist that suggest that a key aspect of the Irukandji sting, an approximately 20 minute delay between sting and symptom onset, is not a phenomenon rooted in the venom, but in the venom delivery system itself. The notion being that in the big box jellyfish Chironex fleckeri for example, the venom is ejected out of the sides of the discharged nematocyst tubule, injecting directly into a victim’s blood stream, thus the symptom onset is immediate.

In contrast, the nematocysts from Irukandji species are theorised only to eject venom directly out of the tip of the discharged tubule, injecting into the muscle which then takes time to work its way into the circulatory system, thus the delay in symptoms. However, there is currently only anecdotal evidence to support this.

By producing a 3d realisation of the nematocyst, we can determine the true venom delivery mechanism, providing significant advancement in the knowledge and understanding of not only the venom ecology of this animal, but its direct action in human envenomations.

Carukia barnesi. nematocysts diagram

Lead researcher: Scott Morrissey (PhD Candidate)

Cubozoan jellyfish are elusive by nature and as a result many challenges exist with respect to detection, which is of concern considering the threat they pose to humans. The polyps of the deadly Chironex fleckeri represent the longest-lived stage of jellyfish and are the source of medusa (adult form of Chironex fleckeri). However, there is almost no information available on the benthic polyp stage of this species.

This project will apply the innovative genetic technique, environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling to detect Chironex fleckeri medusae and polyps in waters with high tourist visitation, this being Magnetic Island off the coast of Townsville, Queensland. Should this technique prove successful it will remove the need to physically observe jellyfish in a location and will allow for quicker and increased detection. The study will also utilise the eDNA technique to examine the spatial patterns of jellyfish occurrence, and ground truth the accuracy of eDNA to determine the abundance of medusae within Horseshoe Bay.

Further, oceanographic modelling, that incorporates the decay of eDNA, will provide greater knowledge of ‘DNA halos’ that signals proximity to targeted polyp beds and jellyfish aggregations.

The specific aims of this project are as follows;

  1. Determine the source of polyps by sampling eDNA at a location with high tourist visitation.
  2. Determine spatial patterns of jellyfish occurrence, and potentially abundance, within and near a popular area for swimming, Horseshoe Bay, Magnetic Island.
  3. Ground truth the accuracy of eDNA to detect and determine the abundance of medusae.
  4. Develop oceanographic modelling of eDNA dispersal from source areas within the study area.

You can follow Scott's adventures on Twitter @ScottJMorrissey

Scott morrissey on news.

2020

Lead researcher: Scott Morrissey (PhD Candidate)

Cubozoan jellyfish are elusive by nature and as a result many challenges exist with respect to detection, which is of concern considering the threat they pose to humans. The polyps of the deadly Chironex fleckeri represent the longest-lived stage of jellyfish and are the source of medusa (adult form of Chironex fleckeri). However, there is almost no information available on the benthic polyp stages of this species.

This project will apply the innovative genetic technique, environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling to detect Chironex fleckeri polys in the waters off Mapoon in far norther Queensland. Should this technique prove successful it will remove the need to physically observe jellyfish in a location and will allow for quicker and increased detection. The study also allows for investigation into the ecology of the polyp life history stage of this jellyfish which currently, is almost unknown.

Further, oceanographic modelling, that incorporates the decay of eDNA, will provide greater knowledge of ‘DNA’ halos’ that signals proximity to targeted polyp beds and jellyfish aggregations.

The specific aims of this project are as follows;

1. Determine the rate of decay of eDNA for Chironex fleckeri medusa.

2. Demonstrate experimentally in the laboratory and field that we can detect the presence/absence and relative abundance of Chironex fleckeri medusae and polyps using eDNA.

3. Undertake oceanographic modelling of eDNA halos incorporating eDNA decay to determine dispersal distances of eDNA from point-sources (e.g. beds of polyps).

You can follow Scott's adventures on Twitter @ScottJMorrissey

eDNA samplingScott Morrissey

2019

Lead researcher: Olivia Rowley (PhD Candidate)

The Australian box jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri) is a large active jellyfish common to the calm inshore waters of Northern Australia. Considered the most venomous animal in the world, the box jellyfishes’ deadly reputation is due to its potent venom, which while highly adapted for capturing large active prey such as prawns and fish, is responsible for a number of serious stings annually.

Currently Surf Life Saving Queensland relies on beach goers swimming within nets, wearing full body stinger suits and regular beach drags to ensure swimmer safety. However, suits are often disregarded, drags are time intensive and, it is not feasible to net every beach. So how do we protect our beachgoers?

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) are becoming commonplace as marine monitoring tools and have proven effective for the detection of a large number of marine animals. In this project we will be testing the viability of ‘off the shelf’, consumer grade, drones to detect box jellyfish and protect our swimmers.

You can follow Olivia on Twitter to see her progress: @oliviarowley4

Detecting Jellies with UAVNetting jellies

Lead researcher: Emily O’Hara  (PhD Candidate)

From the lethal big box jellyfish Chironex fleckeri to the tiny irukandji Carukia barnesi, jellyfish species around Northern Queensland pose a major health hazard to humans. These animals possess microscopic stinging organelles filled with venom, which is injected into their prey and often inadvertently humans. Venom is made up of multiple toxins and variation in this venom composition has been documented in a number of animals between genders, life stages, diet and geographic location, but environmental temperature has been scarcely considered, and never within jellyfish.

With global warming occurring at an unprecedented rate, it is important to understand if the venom of these dangerous animals may change as temperatures increase. Any changes in venom could alter the severity of these animals stings. This project will grow young jellyfish (polyps) through to adulthood at different temperatures, then use molecular techniques to analyse the venom at each temperature.

Jellyfish collection in the wildBiorb growing tanks