Ocean blooms: tracking the rise of jellyfish swarms

Once considered a trophic dead-end, jellyfish are a key food group for other marine animals

Many scientists believe that jellyfish numbers are increasing, pointing to their remarkable resilience to climate change and the increase in hugely damaging jellyfish blooms. But are jellies really taking over, and if so, what should be done to prevent the jellification of the ocean?

The winners of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry owe their success to jellyfish. Specifically, to Aequorea Victoria (or the crystal jellyfish), a delicate, translucent species whose organs emit light. It was by collecting thousands of these bioluminescent creatures, which float in the waters off the west coast of North America, that Martin Chalfie, Osamu Shimomura and Roger Y Tsien were able to extract and develop green fluorescent protein (gfp), a substance that glows intensely under ultraviolet light and which revolutionised the study of human diseases. By inserting gfp into cells, scientists around the world can now track the way cancer tumours form new blood vessels, the way Alzheimers disease kills brain neurons and the way HIV-infected cells produce new viruses.

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The discovery of gfp and its phenomenal usefulness is a rare anomaly in the wider jellyfish story. As the tale normally goes, jellies are a nuisance, a pest, or in some cases a deadly menace the sting of the deadly box jellyfish can cause a human heart to stop within seconds. Most problematic of all are the huge ....

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