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How Horseshoe Crab Blood Saves Millions Of Lives

How Horseshoe Crab Blood Saves Millions Of Lives

Above: Photo credit: PBS. Horseshoe crab blood being drained for use in checking the sterile state of medical equipment.

You don’t survive for 450 million years without learning a trick or two. In the case of horseshoe crabs, one of those is developing blood with remarkable antibacterial properties. Humans haven’t been around nearly as long, but we learn fast, including how to harness those properties in ways that save our lives, but aren’t so great for the crabs.

The most obviously unusual aspect of crab blood is that it is bright blue, a consequence of using copper-based hemocyanin to transport oxygen where vertebrates use iron in hemoglobin. Instead of white blood cells to fight infection, many invertebrates have amebocytes, and Atlantic horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) have evolved these to such a peak of refinement that they are of enormous medical value.

Horseshoe crab amebocytes coagulate around as little as one part in a trillion of bacterial contamination. Even better, the reaction takes 45 minutes, not two days as with mammalian equivalents. Coagulan, the chemical that makes this possible, is used for testing medical equipment and vaccines prior to use, without which many more people would die from infections. Unfortunately, coagulan synthesis is in its infancy so a quarter of a million crabs are harvested each year for their blood, as shown in this video:

Unfortunately, overharvesting in North America has led to a decline in crab populations, with worrying implications if this continues. In order to sustain the species, the harvesters take 30% of the blood from each crab, after which they are returned to the ocean. While this portion of blood is meant to be an amount the crabs can survive, it is thought that 10-30% don’t. Moreover, among the females that do recover they often breed less after being bled. However, at $15,000/l plenty of people still think the crab blood is worth bottling.


Source www.iflscience.com


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  1. I feel like this is just wrong! That is inhumane and not necessary …surely there are other alternatives available out there! Someone is cashing in on this bigtime!

  2. I think their thinking is small, they’re actually using this blue blood for cosmetics, the story about it being used for medical equipment is just a spin. These animals are having their blood drained so women can feel better abot themselves, as they drain the life from innocent animals.

  3. This is terrible, lf these animals are bled to death? They are ancient creatures. If they are kept in good conditions and allowed to recover and are replenished by New stock before they die and have some life back in the ocean then its different but l dout that very much. Vampires live and they where white coats 🙁

  4. So this is the answer – bleeding a bunch of crabs to death so we can survive? I don’t agree with it; it doesn’t feel right. None of these crabs gave their permission to be used in this manner.

    • if you watched the video the reason for the high mortality rate is clear many of the horseshoe crabs were to small and when Bob Gult did this we marked their backs with a permit marker that wouldn’t come off until the crab had malted when the mark would come off only then would it be bleed again when Bob Gult was doing this the death rate was less then 5 %

  5. I know the man that started this in Beaufort SC his name is Bob Gult and he was the first person to do this I collected some of the first horseshoe crabs with him more then 30 years ago ,I met Bob when I was a little kid and my sister almost drowned as we were swimming at the boat landing Bob saved my sister from drowning and I had a crush on his daughter Christine what a life I lived ,I did more cool shit before I turned 16 then I have done in the 35 years since then how screwed up is that .

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