Upside-down jellyfish new tool in mopping up industrial pollution
Photo: The Cassiopea maremetens jellyfish can absorb metals. (Supplied: Hannah Epstein)

Jellyfish could play a major role in cleaning up industrial pollution, thanks to the work of researchers in north Queensland.

Key points:

  • Upside-down jellyfish can absorb copper and zinc
  • Scientists say thousands of the animals would be needed, and most would suffer
  • Jellyfish could also be used for pollution monitoring to keep track of metals in the water

Scientists from James Cook University tested the ability of the Cassiopea maremetens, also known as the the upside-down jellyfish, to absorb metals including copper and zinc.

Lead author Hannah Epstein said they found the jellyfish could be used to suck in the metals for a short period of time.

“With our experimental work in our lab we are actually seeing the uptake of metals within 24 hours of exposure to high conditions, so it’s pretty significant,” she said.

Ms Epstein said the findings could fast-track new ways to clean up industrial pollution.

Researchers hope to recreate jellyfish mechanism

“What would be more interesting to look at are the mechanisms for how the jellyfish are uptaking these metals and … put that into something more like a synthetic material that’s really similar to jellyfish rather than using the animal themselves to mop up.”

She said thousands of the jellyfish would be needed to help mop up pollution and most would suffer.


Photo: Hannah Epstein and Professor Michael Kingsford place a jellyfish in a Townsville creek. (Supplied: Hannah Epstein)

“In the lab experiments, we do start seeing the negative effects,” she said.

“Reduced growth is one thing and sometimes lesions, the experimental conditions had the maximum pollution we see around the world. So it’s not ideal for the jellyfish, for sure.”

The research also suggested the animals could be used as a monitoring device to help authorities keep track of metals in the water.

Ms Epstein said further research was needed to determine whether the jellyfish could be used to absorb other types of pollution.

“It’s definitely something to continue to look for in the future, particularly with other kinds of chemicals like herbicides, insecticides and pesticides that are coming from the more agricultural areas as well,” he said.

James Cook University’s findings were published in the online journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

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