Jellyfish have been around for 500 million years, floating in shallow waters and the darkest ocean depths. Their strange gelatinous bodies and stinging tentacles have long fascinated marine scientists (and scared a few humans!), but these other-worldly creatures provide us with much more than a beautiful underwater show.
Jellyfish have many uses from food to medical advancement. Once considered a delicacy, non-venomous species of jellyfish have become a popular dish throughout Asia and many parts of the world. The medical world has also discovered the vast benefits that jellyfish can provide from collagen to a form of cancer treatment.
While these odd sea creatures may be beneficial to the world of cuisine and medicine, they’re also having a grave impact on the environment – harming the economic stability of fisheries and even producing more carbon than the sea may be able to handle. Let’s look at the uses and impact of jellyfish.
Can Jellyfish Be Used for Food?
Absolutely! Jellyfish have been consumed in parts of coastal China for well over 1,700 years, with the Chinese philosopher Zhang Hua living in the Jin dynasty (232-300 CE) making reference to eating them in his writing.
Today between 25-30 species of the world’s jellyfish are safe to eat and exist in the following forms:
Jellyfish have a very delicate, barely detectable flavor of the salty sea brine, so many chefs will fry them in oils and batter to enhance their subtle taste, served alone or as part of a stir fry. Fried jellyfish is a local delicacy in parts of Sardinia and Sicily.
Throughout China and Japan, people love to eat the bodies and tentacles of jellyfish raw or sliced into thin strips, since the crunchy texture and low-calorie content makes a great addition to plain or chicken salad dishes.
The heads of jellyfish have been consumed for centuries in Chinese herbal soups, and are still popular today. The head or ‘bell’ of the jellyfish is typically soaked and marinated in rice wine before being added to water, pork bone, and spring onions. Try the recipe here!
The rubbery texture and delicate taste of Jellyfish tentacles make them a favorite type of crunchy noodle throughout Thailand. This is also a very popular street food in parts of Vietnam known as ‘Bún Sứa’.
Jellyfish in sushi has long been a favorite in Japan, often eaten sashimi style with soy sauce. Recently, however – due to explosions of jellyfish populations across Europe – zoologists and food researchers in the Mediterranean are bringing sushi dishes to Italian cuisine to try and drive their numbers down.
Can Jellyfish Be Used for Medicine?
Yes, Chinese medicine has exploited the medical benefits of jellyfish for centuries, specifically to help overweight patients and those with heart issues. According to Chinese Medicine Living, health benefits included lowered blood pressure and cholesterol; preventing hardening of the arteries; lubricating intestines, and eliminating congestion.
As for today, recent scientific breakthroughs in biotechnology and biomedicine are exemplifying why jellyfish continue to provide medical benefits to us in some incredible ways:
Human Tissue Repair
In 2018, researchers in China discovered that jellyfish membrane can have incredible restorative powers when it comes to human cell regrowth, behaving in a similar way to human cells when a wound heals.
In the experiment, an extract was taken from the tentacle of a Lion’s Mane jellyfish (one of the largest jellyfish species on the planet), before being tested on damaged and injured human cells. The result demonstrated that this jellyfish tissue extract actively encouraged new human cells to multiply and migrate to cover the wound.
On a more detailed level, this experiment also revealed that the tentacle extract honed in on a set of genetic material that helps human cells progress from the growing phase to the DNA replication phase!
Collagen is famously used in cosmetic surgery, but this is a natural protein used to help skin, bone, and ligaments regrow. Medical collagen (used for reconstruction and in testing against various diseases) is commonly taken from cows, pigs, and rats, but biotech companies are now including jellyfish tissue in their collagen sources.
The Marine Biotechnologies company ‘Jellagen’ located in Cardiff in the UK has found that jellyfish collagen is better for growing cells than any other type due to its ability to stimulate blood flow at the site of an injury and Jellagen’s founder Dr. Andrew Mearns Spragg hopes that jellyfish could commonly be used for bone repair, wound dressings, and implants in the near future.
Potential Cancer Treatment
A 2017 study published in the Hindawi medical journal for Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that jellyfish contains a component that has anti-cancer properties.
The study looked specifically into the effects of the Nomura’s (Nemopilema nomurai) Jellyfish venom on tumor-bearing mice. After 20 days, regular administration of the jellyfish venom into the mice resulted in a significant reduction of the tumor size, decreasing by up to 82.8%!
During the course of this and similar studies into jellyfish venom, antiarthritic, immunostimulatory, and insecticidal effects are among some of the specific health benefits discovered – all of which could have huge potential in the future treatment of human diseases like cancer.
How Do Jellyfish Impact the Environment?
Unfortunately, despite their versatility, jellyfish are also having a detrimental effect on our environment, which is in no small part down to us. Warmer ocean temperatures and acidification has gradually altered ocean biodiversity, sending jellyfish populations into more and more areas of the planet.
This mass spread of jellyfish into ecosystems that were unprepared for them has meant that many fisheries are now suffering due to jellyfish consuming the larvae of commercial fish and power stations are shutting down due to jellyfish clogging the water pipes.
The sheer mass of jellyfish outbreaks across wider parts of the world is also harming tourist hot spots due to a higher risk of stings and allergic reactions caused by jellyfish in shallow waters, not to mention the sheer weight of new jellyfish populations bursting fishing nets.
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