The Blood Harvest
Quote:Each year, half a million horseshoe crabs are captured and bled alive to create an unparalleled biomedical technology.
The thing about the blood that everyone notices first: It's blue, baby blue.
The marvelous thing about horseshoe crab blood, though, isn't the color. It's a chemical found only in the amoebocytes of its blood cells that can detect mere traces of bacterial presence and trap them in inescapable clots.
To take advantage of this biological idiosyncrasy, pharmaceutical companies burst the cells that contain the chemical, called coagulogen. Then, they can use the coagulogen to detect contamination in any solution that might come into contact with blood. If there are dangerous bacterial endotoxins in the liquid—even at a concentration of one part per trillion—the horseshoe crab blood extract will go to work, turning the solution into what scientist Fred Bang, who co-discovered the substance, called a "gel."
If there is no bacterial contamination, then the coagulation does not occur, and the solution can be considered free of bacteria. It's a simple, nearly instantaneous test that goes by the name of the LAL, or Limulus amebocyte lysate, test (after the species name of the crab, Limulus polyphemus).
After the biomedical horseshoe crab collectors get them back to a lab, they pierce the tissue around the animals' hearts and drain up to 30 percent of the animals' blood. The LAL is extracted from the blood, and can go for $15,000 per quart. Only five companies bleed the crabs: Associates of Cape Cod, Lonza, Wako Chemicals, Charles River Endosafe, and Limuli Labs (which does not have a website).
The horseshoe crabs are returned to the ocean a great distance from where they were initially picked up to avoid rebleeding animals. The whole process takes between 24 and 72 hours.
The industry says that not that many of the animals die. Between 10 and 30 percent of the bled animals, according to varying estimates, actually die. We can imagine that it's like us giving blood. The crabs get some apple juice and animal crackers and are fine soon thereafter.
Just look at it! Like out of a freakin sci-fi movie