Scientists Try Using Mucus from Jellyfish to Clean the Seas (with VIDEO)
Marine biologists from University of Haifa conduct research with hope of reducing micro plastics from water
Marine biologists from the University of Haifa are conducting an experiment on jellyfish to find out if the mucus they produce would be a good material to capture micro plastics in treated water systems before the water is released back into the sea.
Prof. Dror Angel, who is leading the research along with PhD candidate Hila Dror, told The Media Line that the mucus could be manufactured into two potential products – a sticky mesh that would filter out plastic particles, or a chemical powder that to be added to treated wastewater.
Angel says he is focusing mainly on creating a product that would work for waste-water treatment plants.
“Most of the plastics are reduced… by the [treatment] process, or removed, but some micro plastics manage to get through, and it’s these residual micro plastics that we are trying to capture in the process that we are developing with the mucus,” he said.
Micro plastics are small bits of plastic that litter waterways and are believed by some researchers to be bad for human health.
Initiated in 2018, the Haifa University “Go Jelly” project is part of the European Union-funded Horizon 2020 initiative, which encourages competitiveness in order to achieve growth in the region both financially and in terms of innovation.
The researchers are currently testing the properties of the mucus to see how long the substance remains active. Angel says that the mucus can become watery and less effective in capturing particles over time as the enzymes that break down materials lose their ability to function.
It is still unclear to the researchers how long it takes for this breakdown to occur. Currently, they are testing the mucus at different temperatures to see if cooling or freezing can prolong its plastic-capture activity.
Dror and Angel routinely survey the Mediterranean waters off the city of Netanya for jellyfish. They look mostly for the Rhopilema nomadica, or nomad jellyfish, which is the species most frequently seen washed up on Mediterranean shores and look like large, white plastic bags.
When they return, they head to the lab to weigh the specimens, measure the diameter of the bell, or body, and record any unusual things they notice. Next, the mucus is extracted by using a funnel to collect the gooey drippings. Finally, they add the mucus to gold metal particles to see if the mucus will capture them.
Researchers drain jellyfish mucus into a beaker for testing. (Andrew Sweeney)
Nomad jellyfish are considered invasive, and some marine biologists believe the species entered the region in 1977 by navigating north from the Red Sea through the Suez Canal. The species began arriving off the Israeli coast in the 1990s. The species now frequents the shores of Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Malta, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey.
“We usually see [nomad jellyfish that are] very big around here, sometimes even 80 kg. [175 lb.]… which is huge. It’s like 50 cm. [20 in.] in diameter,” Dror said. “It’s amazing.”
When catching a jellyfish, scientists swoop them into buckets of water in order to keep them alive. If one is out of water for even just a few moments, it will die. Dead jellyfish are often washed up onto the shore by the tide.
Many countries that capitalize on tourism take a large economic hit when swarms of jellyfish come to town.
A 2013 survey of Israeli beachgoers conducted by Israeli and American researchers before and after the arrival of jellyfish found that the swarm reduced the number of seaside visits by up to 10.5 percent. A reduction like this can lead to an annual monetary loss of anywhere from $2 million to close to $7 million in income nationwide for businesses dependent on Mediterranean beachgoers.