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Biotech Medicine

Horseshoe Crabs Are Bled Alive To Create an Unparalleled Biomedical Technology 159

Lasrick writes "Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic: '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.' Madrigal continues, '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." ... I don't know about you, but the idea that every single person in America who has ever had an injection has been protected because we harvest the blood of a forgettable sea creature with a hidden chemical superpower makes me feel a little bit crazy. This scenario is not even sci-fi, it's postmodern technology.'"
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Horseshoe Crabs Are Bled Alive To Create an Unparalleled Biomedical Technology

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  • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @03:25PM (#46349255)
    Before this discovery, they used to inject rabbits with the substance being tested, and measured if the rabbits got a fever. It was obviously not a great way to do things. Wasn't very quantifiable or sensitive. Source [].

    Another bit of trivia: one of the other major commercial uses of horseshoe crabs is cutting them up for bait. Works well for that, but you obviously use up the crabs quickly. So we can inconvenience them for a life-saving medical wonder, or we can kill them for a few pounds of fish to eat. Naturally, using them as bait has not been outlawed.

    One last bit of trivia: this isn't really news. I mean, I obviously find it cool, but seriously, 1960 was the discovery. Beta isn't bad enough, now they're altering the content too?
  • Re:Bled Alive? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @03:32PM (#46349353)

    No, they take 30% of the crab's blood and do a distant release to avoid recapture. Research went into checking if the bleeders have reduced respawning. There's also research into a synthesizing the bacteria flagger.

    It sounds savage and I'm not suggesting they're kind to the crabs, but it sounds like they're not being totally irresponsible and causing another dodo.

  • by NIK282000 ( 737852 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @03:43PM (#46349475) Homepage Journal

    There is nothing forgettable about horseshoe crabs. They are older than dinosaurs, the oldest fossils of horseshoe crabs are 450M years old!

  • by Brigadier ( 12956 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @03:46PM (#46349515)

    Horse Shoe crabs area already a depleted resource as they have been used as cheap bait for fishermen for years. The impact being subsequent affects to migratory birds who feast on there eggs. I don't think the pharmacological community have a choice but to treat these crustaceans with the respect due

    http://www.endangeredspeciesin... [] []

  • by QRDeNameland ( 873957 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @03:48PM (#46349549)

    According to Wikipedia, they are not an endangered species though there are reports of declining populations. As to breeding them in captivity:

    Raising horseshoe crabs in captivity has proven to be difficult. Some evidence indicates mating only takes place in the presence of the sand or mud in which the horseshoe crab's eggs were hatched. Neither what is in the sand that the crab can sense nor how they sense it is known with certainty.

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @03:49PM (#46349569)

    When I go to donate blood, am I in a room of people being "Bled Alive"? Technically yes but there's a good reason that term is not used to draw people to donate blood, and is also rather a bit much in this case too.

  • by Peristaltic ( 650487 ) * on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @03:49PM (#46349573)

    One last bit of trivia: this isn't really news. I mean, I obviously find it cool, but seriously, 1960 was the discovery. Beta isn't bad enough, now they're altering the content too?

    I, for one, cannot wait until the story headlined: "Justin Beiber's Totally RAD new computer!" hits the front page.

    Maybe a new poll: "What color is your iPad?"

  • News? (Score:4, Informative)

    by RedShoeRider ( 658314 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @05:01PM (#46350409)
    As someone said, it's not exactly new. LAL testing has been boilerplate standard for better than 20 years now.

    From a lab tech's point of view, LAL testing is brilliant. Mix 10mL of some sample that's supposedly "clean" into a premade LAL test kit. Snap the lid shut. Shake. Incubate for a day. If it changes color, it's positive for endotoxins. If it stays clear, it's negative. Simple as that. And being that the sensitivity is picograms/mL, it's great. Knowing the backstory is neat, too, from the tech's view. Which I am.

Every little picofarad has a nanohenry all its own. -- Don Vonada