Are we done bleeding horseshoe crabs for pharmaceutical use?

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Image credit: Getty Images

Contemporary humans do not deliberately kill the horseshoe crabs—as did previous centuries of farmers catching them for fertilizer or fishermen using them as bait. Instead, they scrub the crabs clean of barnacles, fold their hinged carapaces, and stick stainless steel needles into a soft, weak spot, in order to draw blood.

Horseshoe-crab blood is exquisitely sensitive to toxins from bacteria. It is used to test for contamination during the manufacture of anything that might go inside the human body: every shot, every IV drip, and every implanted medical device. So reliant is the modern biomedical industry on this blood that the disappearance of horseshoe crabs would instantly cripple it.

Related article:  Carl Zimmer's new book walks us deep into the 'thickets of genetics and genomics'

There is another way though—a way for modern medicine to make use of moderntechnology rather than the blood of an ancient animal. A synthetic substitute for horseshoe-crab blood has been available for 15 years.

The world did not change, at least not for the horseshoe crabs. It took three years for the first recombinant factor C test kit based on [researcher Jeak Ling] Ding’s patent to come out in 2003, but even then pharmaceutical companies showed little interest.

Recently, however, a few things have changed the recent risk-reward calculus for pharmaceutical companies.

Read full, original post: The Last Days of the Blue-Blood Harvest

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