Jellies help us out of a jam


When life gives you jellyfish, make ... artificial spit and contact lens cleaner?

It’s a good time to be a jellyfish. Warmer temperatures and fewer fish predators have resulted in population booms in the Pacific Ocean. The Sea of Japan spawns jellies over six feet wide; rare black sea nettles goop up LA beaches; and schools of jellyfish clog the pipes of power plants in India, causing emergency shutdowns.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with health? A newly discovered slimy protein jellies produce lots of — qniumucin — might have myriad medical and cosmetic uses.


Industrious chemists at Japan’s Institute of Physical and Chemical Research collected their own gooey jellyfish specimens and analyzed the animals’ innards, looking for something useful. The scientists found that the most abundant protein was a mucin — a long protein chain studded with carbohydrates that suck up water and keep the molecule slippery.

The scientists say jellies use this qniumucin to clean themselves and defend against predators. But humans produce mucins as well; the proteins keep surfaces that are exposed to air moist and also protect them from invading bacteria, preventing cavities and ulcers.

Mucins are already added to cosmetics, food additives and saliva replacements, but they come from pig stomachs and cow saliva glands, which are expensive. The authors say harvesting mucins could cover the costs of jellyfish cleanup, and even some day turn a profit.

The article describing the discovery of qniumucin appears in the July 27 issue of the Journal of Natural Products.

A giant Japanese jellyfish:

An “all-natural” acne cream with garden snail mucin for pregnant women:


A starfish mucin patent:

— Chelsea Martinez