The horseshoe crab is believed to be one of the oldest animals that have been around on the planet. There’s something interesting about this arthropod – its blood contains copper, which gives it the color blue, and a gallon of it costs $60,000.
Its ancestors were traced back 445 million years ago. Fact is, the horseshoe crab is not a real crab. Its characteristics are more of the arachnids instead of crustaceans. To date, only four species survived- one is the Limulus polyphemus of North America and the other three species can be found in Southeast Asia.
The blood’s unique response to bacteria was discovered more than 50 years ago.
It can gauge the safety of new drugs and treatment therapies by finding out if the vaccine or tool is contaminated with salmonella, E.coli, or other bacteria.
This rare ability is due to the presence of the Limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL), a special clotting agent.
Prior to the LAL approval in 1970, scientists would inject vaccines into a lot of rabbits and wait for the possible symptoms.
Every year, about 600,000 horseshoe crabs are harvested for medical use.
They go through an extraction process where 30% of the horseshoe crab blood is drained.
During the bleeding period, about 10-25% do not survive the ordeal because of weakness and disorientation.
The survivors are returned to its habitat. They are then left to recuperate until they are caught again.
The horseshoe crab population is now threatened to extinction.
In 2016, the horseshoe crab population was placed in the red list of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. It means that it is near to becoming an endangered species.
At present, scientists are looking for a synthetic option to reduce the negative impact of lessening the horseshoe crab population. If they do not find a better alternative, humans, as well as the lives of animals that are commonly used in labs, are at stake.
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