Amazing Kids! Magazine

Life Saving Crab’s Blood

By Nick Tena, age 15, California


There have been many improvements in health since World War 2. Back then there was a lack for treatments of illnesses and many diseases. In 2014, we have found a treatment that could save your life! Surprisingly, it is found in an unlikely source – Horseshoe Crab’s Blood!

A treatment has been found in the bright blue blood of the horseshoe crab. The crab has developed a rare defense to compensate for its vulnerability to infection in the shallow waters it lives in. When it is faced with bacteria, amebocyte cells in the blood identify and congeal around the invading matter. This traps the threat inside a gel-like seal that prevents the disease from spreading. A horseshoe crab has blood that is copper based, which is what makes it blue.  The horseshoe crab’s blood is used to test many drugs and medicines for endotoxins. Endotoxins are byproducts of bacteria and even after sterilization, the endotoxins remain present. If endotoxins are accidentally injected into one’s bloodstream through the injection of these tainted drugs and medicines, they can cause severe fevers, coma, and even death.

The horseshoe crab blood is also now being used in space to perform biological tests. Certain types of bacteria can be identified if present on various space station surfaces. These tests could also be used to assess crew health and spacecraft environmental studies and allow a more extended search for life elsewhere in the solar system.

There have also been other uses found for the horseshoe crab blood.  Japanese scientists have found that the blood can be used to test for fungal infections. They have also found that it may anti-cancer and anti-viral properties that can be used in future treatments. This is coming from the same principal that the blood can isolate and trap threats. As the awareness of the value of crab blood increases, more efforts have occurred to develop alternative tests that do not rely as much on harvesting the horseshoe crabs. One approach involves using electronic chips that provide an alert when in contact with contaminants. Also, the University of Wisconsin – Madison has come up with a method using liquid crystals that can offer similar detection, but at a lower cost. However, none of these alternatives have yet to receive FDA approval at the level of success offered from the horseshoe crab test.

A problem has arisen by harvesting the horseshoe crabs. The crabs only have their blood extracted from them, so they still live after the procedure. Also, after extraction, they are released into the wild. The dilemma is that fisherman use horseshoe crabs as bait and this is decreasing the population of horseshoe crabs. Legislators have put a limit on the amount of horseshoe crabs that fisherman can take, which has gotten the horseshoe crab population up again. Also, some of the crabs used for blood extraction die or are incapable of mating, further depleting the horseshoe crab population.

Ultimately, Christopher Chabot, (a biology major and professor at Plymouth State) believes an alternative is necessary to reduce the strain on the population, through both conservation programs and the development of a synthetic substitute. It is not 100% clear that a horseshoe crab can save lives, but without it, medicine will be set back and there may not be a cure found in quite a while.

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