Horseshoe crabs are amazing creatures that have been on this planet for 450 million years. They survived the mass extinction, several ice ages, and now they can die out because of man. What is the reason? They have bright blue blood, which is highly valued because it is a natural source of Limulus polyphemus (LAL). Now they are in danger of extinction because their blood is being used in Covid vaccines and for drug testing. Up to 30% of the crustaceans have already been killed off in the US.
Why is blue blood used?
Limulus polyphemus immune cells are sensitive to toxic bacteria. As a result, blue blood has been used for almost 20 years to test vaccines and drugs for bacterial toxins. It is currently an essential tool for testing COVID vaccines entering the market. Blue blood is sucked out of the crabs and then crabs are returned to the ocean, where most of them die. One laboratory in South Carolina reports that blood is sucked from a crab for up to 8 minutes.
“As it is now, the entire supply chain for endotoxin testing of drugs rests upon the harvest of a vulnerable or near extinct sea creature,” Kevin Williams, a scientist who manufactures synthetic LAL told The Washington Post.
The Atlantic horseshoe crabs could go the way of the Asian horseshoe crab that is extinct in Taiwan and disappearing in Hong Kong, as a result of mainly biomedical testing. The US horseshoe crab is not endangered yet, but as more than a third of the crabs die after the blood is drawn, their threat is approaching.
Blood from Horseshoe crabs is a huge business
Ryan Phelan, co-founder and Executive Director of Revive and Restore, a wildlife conservation group based in California that lobbied for the synthetic, told Yahoo News: “You’ve got a very large, biomedical bleeding industry with a vested interest in keeping those horseshoes crabs coming in and basically protecting this monopoly. “
Some pharmaceutical laboratories use synthetic versions of LAL, but live crab blood is still used in the United States.
“In the US, 525,000 horseshoe crabs per year were captured during 2013 to 2017 and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission estimates short-term bleeding-induced mortality to be 15 percent (4 percent to 30 percent), resulting in mortality of approximately 78,750 horseshoe crabs annually in recent years comprising a minor portion,“ according to a study published in Frontiers.
According to the Atlantic Marine Fisheries Commission, in 2019, 640,000 crabs were used in the United States to draw blood. The blood of these crabs is of very high value and is an industry worth $ 500 billion. That’s why the South Carolina lab is worth $ 13 billion. Charles River officials have said in the past that more than 80 million LAL tests are performed each year. When crabs’ blood is taken, they are slower, stressed, and death often due to ill-treatment.