In the latest development in Japan's war against giant jellyfish invaders, scientists studying the biochemistry of echizen kurage (Nomura's jellyfish) have discovered a previously unknown type of mucin in the sea creatures.
Mucins, the main structural components of mucus, are complex proteins found in human saliva, gastric juice and the lining of the stomach, all of which play a key role in the digestive process. The recently discovered jellyfish mucin, according to the researchers from the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) and science equipment manufacturer Shinwa Chemical Industries, can be put to use in a variety of pharmaceutical, medical, food and cosmetic products.
While the researchers have yet to release the details about the molecular structure of the jellyfish mucin, they claim it has a simple structure similar to a type of glycoprotein (organic molecule composed of protein and sugar chains) found in human digestive fluid, suggesting it could be used as a digestive supplement for elderly people with weak gastric juice. In addition, the researchers see potential uses for jellyfish mucin in products such as eyedrops, artificial saliva and surgical adhesives.
At least 12 types of mucins are known to exist in various locations in the human digestive tract, as well as in saliva and in the mammary glands. While mucins are also known to exist in animals and in some plants such as okra, lotus root and yams, only a few sources of the slimy substance have been tapped for large-scale commercial production.
To harvest the jellyfish, RIKEN says it is investigating the possibility of enlisting the help of Japan's fisheries to catch the giant echizen kurage, which can grow up to 2 meters (6 ft 7 in) in diameter and weigh up to 200 kg (440 lb) each. The group is also considering harvesting moon jellyfish, the culprits responsible for disrupting output at nuclear power plants last year after they clogged seawater coolant intake pipes.
Business negotiations are now underway between 20 organizations, including pharmaceutical companies, medical institutions and food and cosmetics manufacturers.
[Source: Fuji Sankei]