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Concept: Jellyfish


BACKGROUND: Cnidaria (corals, sea anemones, hydroids, jellyfish) is a phylum of relatively simple aquatic animals characterized by the presence of the cnidocyst: a cell containing a giant capsular organelle with an eversible tubule (cnida). Species within Cnidaria have life cycles that involve one or both of the two distinct body forms, a typically benthic polyp, which may or may not be colonial, and a typically pelagic mostly solitary medusa. The currently accepted taxonomic scheme subdivides Cnidaria into two main assemblages: Anthozoa (Hexacorallia + Octocorallia) – cnidarians with a reproductive polyp and the absence of a medusa stage – and Medusozoa (Cubozoa, Hydrozoa, Scyphozoa, Staurozoa) – cnidarians that usually possess a reproductive medusa stage. Hypothesized relationships among these taxa greatly impact interpretations of cnidarian character evolution. RESULTS: We expanded the sampling of cnidarian mitochondrial genomes, particularly from Medusozoa, to reevaluate phylogenetic relationships within Cnidaria. Our phylogenetic analyses based on a mitochogenomic dataset support many prior hypotheses, including monophyly of Hexacorallia, Octocorallia, Medusozoa, Cubozoa, Staurozoa, Hydrozoa, Carybdeida, Chirodropida, and Hydroidolina, but reject the monophyly of Anthozoa, indicating that the Octocorallia + Medusozoa relationship is not the result of sampling bias, as proposed earlier. Further, our analyses contradict Scyphozoa [Discomedusae + Coronatae], Acraspeda [Cubozoa + Scyphozoa], as well as the hypothesis that Staurozoa is the sister group to all the other medusozoans. CONCLUSIONS: Cnidarian mitochondrial genomic data contain phylogenetic signal informative for understanding the evolutionary history of this phylum. Mitogenome-based phylogenies, which reject the monophyly of Anthozoa, provide further evidence for the polyp-first hypothesis. By rejecting the traditional Acraspeda and Scyphozoa hypotheses, these analyses suggest that the shared morphological characters in these groups are plesiomorphies, originated in the branch leading to Medusozoa. The expansion of mitogenomic data along with improvements in phylogenetic inference methods and use of additional nuclear markers will further enhance our understanding of the phylogenetic relationships and character evolution within Cnidaria.

Concepts: Medusa, Coral, Anthozoa, Polyp, Hydrozoa, Sea anemone, Jellyfish, Cnidaria


Our previous studies have confirmed that the crude tentacle-only extract (cTOE) from the jellyfish Cyanea capillata (Cyaneidae) exhibits hemolytic and cardiovascular toxicities simultaneously. So, it is quite difficult to discern the underlying active component responsible for heart injury caused by cTOE. The inactivation of the hemolytic toxicity from cTOE accompanied with a removal of plenty of precipitates would facilitate the separation of cardiovascular component and the investigation of its cardiovascular injury mechanism. In our research, after the treatment of one-step alkaline denaturation followed by twice dialysis, the protein concentration of the treated tentacle-only extract (tTOE) was about 1/3 of cTOE, and SDS-PAGE showed smaller numbers and lower density of protein bands in tTOE. The hemolytic toxicity of tTOE was completely lost while its cardiovascular toxicity was well retained. The observations of cardiac function, histopathology and ultrastructural pathology all support tTOE with significant cardiovascular toxicity. Blood gas indexes and electrolytes changed far less by tTOE than those by cTOE, though still with significant difference from normal. In summary, the cardiovascular toxicity of cTOE can exist independently of the hemolytic toxicity and tTOE can be employed as a better venom sample for further purification and mechanism research on the jellyfish cardiovascular toxic proteins.

Concepts: Semaeostomeae, Jellyfish, Cyaneidae, Toxicity, Protein, Heart, Lion's mane jellyfish, Blood


The nematocyst is one of the most complex intracellular structures found in nature and is the defining feature of the phylum Cnidaria (sea anemones, corals, jellyfish, and hydroids). This miniature stinging organelle contains and delivers venom into prey and foe yet little is known about its toxic components. In the present study, we identified by tandem mass spectrometry 20 proteins released upon discharge from the nematocyst of the model sea anemone Nematostella vectensis. The availability of genomic and transcriptomic data for this species enabled accurate identification and phylogenetic study of these components. Fourteen of these proteins could not be identified in other animals suggesting that they might be the products of taxonomically restricted genes, a finding which fits well their origin from a taxon-specific organelle. Further, we studied by in situ hybridization the localization of two of the transcripts encoding the putative nematocyst venom proteins: a metallopeptidase related to the Tolloid family and a cysteine-rich protein. Both transcripts were detected in nematocytes, which are the cells containing nematocysts, and the metallopeptidase was found also in pharyngeal gland cells. Our findings reveal for the first time the possible venom components of a sea anemone nematocyst and suggest their evolutionary origins.

Concepts: Anthozoa, Gene, Jellyfish, Animal, Coral, Cnidocyte, Sea anemone, Cnidaria


The nematocyst is a complex intracellular structure unique to Cnidaria. When triggered to discharge, the nematocyst explosively releases a long spiny, tubule that delivers an often highly venomous mixture of components. The box jellyfish, Chironex fleckeri, produces exceptionally potent and rapid-acting venom and its stings to humans cause severe localized and systemic effects that are potentially life-threatening. In an effort to identify toxins that could be responsible for the serious health effects caused by C. fleckeri and related species, we used a proteomic approach to profile the protein components of C. fleckeri venom. Collectively, 61 proteins were identified, including toxins and proteins important for nematocyte development and nematocyst formation (nematogenesis). The most abundant toxins identified were isoforms of a taxonomically restricted family of potent cnidarian proteins. These toxins are associated with cytolytic, nociceptive, inflammatory, dermonecrotic and lethal properties and expansion of this important protein family goes some way to explaining the destructive and potentially fatal effects of C. fleckeri venom. Venom proteins and their post-translational modifications (PTMs) were further characterized using toxin-specific antibodies and phosphoprotein/glycoprotein-specific stains. Results indicated that glycosylation is a common PTM of the toxin family while a lack of cross-reactivity by toxin-specific antibodies infers there is significant divergence in structure and possibly function among family members. This study provides insight into the depth and diversity of protein toxins produced by harmful box jellyfish and represents the first description of a cubozoan jellyfish venom proteome.

Concepts: Proteomics, Toxin, Jellyfish, Chironex fleckeri, Protein, Cnidocyte, Box jellyfish, Cnidaria


At first glance, the trailing tentacles of a jellyfish appear to be randomly arranged. However, close examination of medusae has revealed that the arrangement and developmental order of the tentacles obey a mathematical rule. Here, we show that medusa jellyfish adopt the best strategy to achieve the most uniform distribution of a variable number of tentacles. The observed order of tentacles is a real-world example of an optimal hashing algorithm known as Fibonacci hashing in computer science.

Concepts: Cryptographic hash function, Scientific method, Hash function, Cryptography, Algorithm, Computer science, Jellyfish, Mathematics


The capability of animals to emit light, called bioluminescence, is considered to be a major factor in ecological interactions. Because it occurs across diverse taxa, measurements of bioluminescence can be powerful to detect and quantify organisms in the ocean. In this study, 17 years of video observations were recorded by remotely operated vehicles during surveys off the California Coast, from the surface down to 3,900 m depth. More than 350,000 observations are classified for their bioluminescence capability based on literature descriptions. The organisms represented 553 phylogenetic concepts (species, genera or families, at the most precise taxonomic level defined from the images), distributed within 13 broader taxonomic categories. The importance of bioluminescent marine taxa is highlighted in the water column, as we showed that 76% of the observed individuals have bioluminescence capability. More than 97% of Cnidarians were bioluminescent, and 9 of the 13 taxonomic categories were found to be bioluminescent dominant. The percentage of bioluminescent animals is remarkably uniform over depth. Moreover, the proportion of bioluminescent and non-bioluminescent animals within taxonomic groups changes with depth for Ctenophora, Scyphozoa, Chaetognatha, and Crustacea. Given these results, bioluminescence has to be considered an important ecological trait from the surface to the deep-sea.

Concepts: Categorization, Cnidaria, Greek loanwords, Ocean, Taxonomic rank, Animal, Alpha taxonomy, Jellyfish


Feeding strategies and predator-prey interactions of many deep-sea pelagic organisms are still unknown. This is also true for pelagic cephalopods, some of which are very abundant in oceanic ecosystems and which are known for their elaborate behaviors and central role in many foodwebs. We report on the first observations of the giant deep-sea octopus Haliphron atlanticus with prey. Using remotely operated vehicles, we saw these giant octopods holding medusae in their arms. One of the medusae could be identified as Phacellophora camtschatica (the egg-yolk jelly). Stomach content analysis confirmed predation on cnidarians and gelatinous organisms. The relationship between medusae and H. atlanticus is discussed, also in comparison with other species of the Argonautoidea, all of which have close relationships with gelatinous zooplankton.

Concepts: Lotka–Volterra equation, Ecology, Seven-arm Octopus, Scyphozoa, Ocean, Jellyfish, Octopus, Predation


Cnidarian envenomations are the leading cause of severe and lethal human sting injuries from marine life. The total amount of venom discharged into sting-site tissues, sometimes referred to as “venom load”, has been previously shown to correlate with tentacle contact length and sequelae severity. Since <1% of cnidae discharge upon initial tentacle contact, effective and safe removal of adherent tentacles is of paramount importance in the management of life-threatening cubozoan stings. We evaluated whether common rinse solutions or scraping increased venom load as measured in a direct functional assay of venom activity (hemolysis). Scraping significantly increased hemolysis by increasing cnidae discharge. For Alatina alata, increases did not occur if the tentacles were first doused with vinegar or if heat was applied. However, in Chironex fleckeri, vinegar dousing and heat treatment were less effective, and the best outcomes occurred with the use of venom-inhibiting technologies (Sting No More(®) products). Seawater rinsing, considered a "no-harm" alternative, significantly increased venom load. The application of ice severely exacerbated A. alata stings, but had a less pronounced effect on C. fleckeri stings, while heat application markedly reduced hemolysis for both species. Our results do not support scraping or seawater rinsing to remove adherent tentacles.

Concepts: Chirodropidae, Cnidocyte, Jellyfish, Cnidaria, Box jellyfish, Chironex fleckeri


Green Fluorescent Proteins (GFPs) have been reported from a wide diversity of medusae, but only a few observations of green fluorescence have been reported for hydroid colonies. In this study, we report on fluorescence displayed by hydroid polyps of the genus Cytaeis Eschscholtz, 1829 (Hydrozoa: Anthoathecata: Filifera) found at night time in the southern Red Sea (Saudi Arabia) living on shells of the gastropod Nassarius margaritifer (Dunker, 1847) (Neogastropoda: Buccinoidea: Nassariidae). We examined the fluorescence of these polyps and compare with previously reported data. Intensive green fluorescence with a spectral peak at 518 nm was detected in the hypostome of the Cytaeis polyps, unlike in previous reports that reported fluorescence either in the basal parts of polyps or in other locations on hydroid colonies. These results suggest that fluorescence may be widespread not only in medusae, but also in polyps, and also suggests that the patterns of fluorescence localization can vary in closely related species. The fluorescence of polyps may be potentially useful for field identification of cryptic species and study of geographical distributions of such hydroids and their hosts.

Concepts: Cnidaria, Polyp, Jeddah, Yemen, Jellyfish, Saudi Arabia, Red Sea, Hydrozoa


What happens when an animal is injured and loses important structures? Some animals simply heal the wound, whereas others are able to regenerate lost parts. In this study, we report a previously unidentified strategy of self-repair, where moon jellyfish respond to injuries by reorganizing existing parts, and rebuilding essential body symmetry, without regenerating what is lost. Specifically, in response to arm amputation, the young jellyfish of Aurelia aurita rearrange their remaining arms, recenter their manubria, and rebuild their muscular networks, all completed within 12 hours to 4 days. We call this process symmetrization. We find that symmetrization is not driven by external cues, cell proliferation, cell death, and proceeded even when foreign arms were grafted on. Instead, we find that forces generated by the muscular network are essential. Inhibiting pulsation using muscle relaxants completely, and reversibly, blocked symmetrization. Furthermore, we observed that decreasing pulse frequency using muscle relaxants slowed symmetrization, whereas increasing pulse frequency by lowering the magnesium concentration in seawater accelerated symmetrization. A mathematical model that describes the compressive forces from the muscle contraction, within the context of the elastic response from the mesoglea and the ephyra geometry, can recapitulate the recovery of global symmetry. Thus, self-repair in Aurelia proceeds through the reorganization of existing parts, and is driven by forces generated by its own propulsion machinery. We find evidence for symmetrization across species of jellyfish (Chrysaora pacifica, Mastigias sp., and Cotylorhiza tuberculata).

Concepts: Muscular system, Muscle, Aurelia, Ulmaridae, Cotylorhiza tuberculata, Aurelia aurita, Scyphozoa, Jellyfish