Will This Species Be Sacrificed Due to COVID?

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STORY AT-A-GLANCE

  • The blue blood from horseshoe crabs is the only known source of limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL)
  • LAL is used to detect endotoxins, bacterial contaminants that can be deadly if they end up in vaccines, injectable drugs or other medical devices and implants, such as artificial knees and hips
  • Every year, the pharmaceutical industry captures about 500,000 horseshoe crabs on the East Coast of the U.S. and drains up to one-third of their blood
  • Even using conservative estimates of mortality caused by bleeding, and combining it with the 13% of bled crabs sold for bait, at least 130,000 horseshoe crabs may be killed every year by the biomedical industry
  • Aside from the crabs that die outright, sublethal effects, including injury and disorientation, decreased spawning and disease, are also known to occur as a result of capture, handling and transportation, and may affect horseshoe crabs for weeks following the bleeding
  • Population monitoring studies suggest horseshoe crab populations decreased more than 10%, or about 1% per year, from 2003 to 2014, although more striking declines of up to 95.3% have been noted in certain areas
  • A synthetic alternative to the LAL test exists, and switching to it would reduce the demand for LAL by 90%, which could save about 100,000 horseshoe crabs from dying every year in North America alone

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