Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More
The secret superpowers of jellyfish

The secret superpowers of jellyfish

Jellyfish are amazing, incredible, unearthly. You can get things that
are shaped like a biplane, things that are a bunch of tubes
connected to each other. Comb jellies have these little
paddles that are like eyelashes. And when those catch the light, they break the light
into rainbow patterns. There’s siphonophores, which can curl up
like a chandelier. It’s almost like they’re
ice sculptures, because they’re so
transparent and shimmering. The words that would come to
mind, for most people, for jellyfish:
nasty, stingy, slimy, gooey. A lot of them can’t
even sting at all. Even though, you know,
birds and bats both have wings, they’re not very closely
related to each other. And the same thing in the ocean, where you can get things that
are more closely related to us. They’re called salps. You can get these big long ones,
called siphonophores. They’re totally independent
lines of animal life. A lot of the challenge in
getting, I think, a true understanding of jellies is that we have very limited
ways of experiencing them, and actually seeing them alive. And only recently,
with technology, these remotely
operated submarines, can we go down, and take a
video of a jellyfish that lives a thousand, three thousand,
ten thousand feet below the surface. We’re at a site called
Mid-Water One. Down here, there’s all
these creatures that look really strange, compared
to what people are used to seeing in the wilderness, or if they go for a walk
in the forest. Jellyfish have this
special superpower, which is the ability
to make light. We don’t know what
genes or chemicals make their bioluminescence. We don’t even know how many of
them are bioluminescent. There’s just layer upon layer
of unanswered questions about all these organisms. So, as you’re scanning the field,
you, kind of, are looking for blobs that register
as certain organisms. Let’s look at this red guy here. Zoom in and take
a picture of it. Let’s go ahead and suck it up. Once the vehicle comes up, and
the organism goes into that sampler, then we can close the
doors, and capture the water and the organism with it
at the same time. It’s really, really rare to be
able to actually capture the organism that you’ve seen in
the deep sea, and bring it back to the surface to study it. And there’s a huge range of
topics that we can study once we have the
organism in hand. Bolinopsis after all.
I’m gonna check it. We immediately photograph them.
But then, in a lot of cases, we actually freeze them, so that
we can sequence their DNA. We’re using the genetics
to help us figure out, kind of, the secrets of how
they can live and breathe at those depths. But also who they’re eating, and the genes they use for
their bioluminescence. So we’re trying to piece
together these puzzles, using the genes as a guide. In the early 80s,
they actually cloned the gene that gave the jellyfish
the ability to make this green fluorescent protein. And you can use that gene to
label, make essentially a highlighter, that you can use in
the lab for almost any process. So you can label where
neurons are expressed, you can label where
tumors are growing. And this tool became so useful,
as a genetic highlighter, that it was awarded
the Nobel Prize, and now it’s this huge,
multimillion-dollar industry. This really was driven by
a lot of curiosity about, how do these
organisms do that? How do they make light? How do they control it
turning on and off? I still have more questions
than I started out with. So, to me
it’s still a fascination. Our son has a book called
“The Big Book of Beasts,” which is a great book,
but everything in there has four limbs and two eyes. They’re
all basically vertebrates. Cat. And that little slice
of diversity, if you think of the whole tree, even just the tree
of animal life, is just a tiny twig on the
tip of this whole tree. Life can take on so
many different forms. And in the ocean,
they can be so different from anything
that people expect. They’re actually so diaphanous,
and beautiful, and ethereal, that it expands your
imagination to see these organisms, and to see the different
ways that life can succeed.

45 comments on “The secret superpowers of jellyfish

  1. That was not a jellyfish it was a larvacean! In fact most of the organisms displayed are not jellyfish. There are siphonophores, salps, larvaceans, and comb jellies (which are not a type of jellyfish) but barely any jellyfish. MBARI made a great video about this. Not all things that are translucent and sting are jellyfish!

  2. Great video. I'm only confused about one thing. At 2:26 he says we don't know what genes or chemicals make their bioluminescence and then at 4:18 he said they cloned the gene in the early 80's to support scientific advances.

  3. I don't know what to say…….
    I always loved Jellyfish, Aaaaaand i'm still fascinated by them
    I could stay hour staring at them :3

  4. Good video quartz. Also this guy needs to make a jellyfish book for kids and a table top book for adults.

  5. Whenever i watch these videos they always end too soon.
    The brilliance of nature knows no bounds it seems. My eyes are unable to capture enough 'visual calories' to keep up with their seemingly unlimited ability to form moving diaphanous structures that defy any abstract sculpture I've ever seen. It makes me feel crudely inept to their beauty and mystery.
    The fact that we as a species continue to poison the environment is insanity . That and killing anything in our path in search of seafoods over fishing is immoral. But then just look at how we treat each other. May god protect us.

  6. Siphonophores, comb jellies, larvaceans, and salps aren’t true jellies. Heck, comb jellies, larvaceans, and salps aren’t even cnidarians.

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