horseshoe crab

The Blue Blood of a Horseshoe crab is Precious

By Anupum Pant

Not-so-good Bunnies

Several years back large colonies of cute little rabbits were being maintained by pharmaceutical companies. These rabbits were used to find contamination in solutions that would be used to treat human beings. If the rabbits fell sick due to fever after being injected, the solutions were labeled as contaminated and were not injected into humans. If the rabbit had no fever after 2 days, the solution was deemed clean and could be used on humans.

However, pharma companies hated this process – not because they felt bad about harming cute bunnies, but the process was expensive and took about 2 days to give results.

A new discovery

A few years later, a scientist named Fred Bang was studying the circulatory system of a horseshoe crab – half a billion year old specie. He accidentally discovered some amazing properties of the horseshoe crab’s blood when one of his crabs died because its whole blood turned into a semi-solid mass.

He found that when the crab’s blue colored blood came in contact with a certain kind of bacteria, it got clotted into a semi-solid mass and completely trapped the bacteria.

And ultimately with the help of a scientist, Jack Levin, he developed a  process that could be used to detect bacteria contaminated solutions (contaminated with endotoxin). This process proved to be a boon to us humans.

The replaced test

Today the old bunny test has been completely replaced. Pharmaceutical companies love the new test because it takes about just 45 minutes to complete and costs much lesser.

Every year thousands of live Horseshoe crabs are made to bleed blue to take advantage of their blood’s unique properties. About 30% of these crabs die. The miracle blue liquid can detect contamination in solutions that are extremely tiny (even if the contamination is as tiny as some parts-per-trillion). 

The several liters blood extracted from these live crabs is used to save human lives by protecting them from contaminated solutions.

Every single person who has ever had an injection, has been protected because the blood of a horseshoe crab ensured that you got clean injections. Had there been no horseshoe crabs, we’d have been killing bunnies. Salute to the crab.


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