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Scientists clock stinging jellyfish

HEIDELBERG, Germany, May 10 (UPI) -- German scientists using a ultra-high-speed camera have shown the discharge of stinging jellyfish nematocytes is one of nature's fastest cellular processes.

Thomas Holstein of the University of Heidelberg and colleagues studied the nematocysts -- also known as cnidocysts -- of jellyfish and other cnidarians. They are giant exocytotic organelles of the stinging cells used for prey capture and defense.

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The miniature cellular weapons contain a cocktail of hemolytic and neurotoxic poisons, making some cnidarians the most venomous animals known. Injection of the toxins requires an effective release mechanism that breaks the physical barrier of the prey's outer-surface tissue.

It was previously determined high pressure drives nematocyst discharge, and that stylets can penetrate even thick crustacean shells. However, neither the kinetics nor the forces involved were known because discharge is so fast it had not been captured by conventional high-speed imaging.

The researchers using the ultra-high-speed camera found the discharge kinetics of nematocysts in Hydra to be as short as 700 nanoseconds.

The research is detailed in the May 9th issue of Current Biology.

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