Horseshoe Crabs’ Blood Saves Lives


According to CNN, horseshoe crabs provide protection against toxins in modern medical research. Since the 1970s, horse shoe crabs and their blue blood have made the helmet-shaped crab an important collaborator in modern medicine. Over 600,000 crabs are captured and released each year after donating 30 percent of their blood to scientific facilities in the United States and Asia. How much is the blue blood worth?

CNN adds that a gallon of horseshoe crab blood is worth $60,000, and estimated that horseshoe crabs are at the center of a yearly $50 million industry. Wetlands Institute confirms that horseshoe crabs are “living fossils” of organisms that lived 30 million years ago. This accounts for their blood’s clotting agent, Limulus Amoebocyte Lysate, which is not readily found in other species on Earth. This clotting agent allows for accurate detection of infectious bacteria in drugs and prosthetic devices.

The Inquisitr reported on a story a few years ago that noted a prehistoric horseshoe crab fossil from 150 million years ago. In that archaeological finding, the crab died in what is now Germany. It appears that the species’ prehistoric roots are the reason for its evolutionary resistance to disease and infection, a quality that is very useful to human medical patients today.

Conservation efforts for today’s horseshoe crabs are also crucial to medical research. The “catch and release” method does result in about 10 to 30 percent of the crabs dying during the donation process. CNN adds that the decades of testing have put a strain on the horseshoe crab population. There has been a 90 percent decrease in the population in recent years, possibly resulting from issues after release that affect the crab mating season.

Christopher Chabot, a biology professor at Plymouth State, recommends, “We suggest decreasing the time they are out of water, and maintaining an ambient temperature for transportation… there is a lesser mortality rate if you keep them cool.”

Nature World News contends that the blue blood is extracted in about 30 minutes, with female crabs offering the fastest donation due to size. A site manager for one of the labs, Christina Lecker, shares, “The crabs are returned within 48 hours.”

Physical markers are made on the crabs to avoid grabbing the same horseshoe crab twice for blood donation. The Limulus polyphemu, as it is known by its scientific name, is an essential part of human patient care and medical developments. Wetlands Institute adds that, since 1991, they have employed scientists and volunteers to monitor the horseshoe crab population and gather data from the Delaware Bay to ensure the “responsible management of this ancient marine creature.”

Whether great care takes place or not, CNN reports that experts are coming to the conclusion that “an alternative is necessary to reduce the strain on the population.” As Chabot reported to CNN, however, “It’s difficult because the blood is crucial for human health issues.” Though difficult to find a replacement for a medical ally from the prehistoric era, science is now committed to that search.

(Image courtesy of CNN/Charles River Laboratories)