The Race for a Coronavirus Vaccine Runs on Horseshoe Crab Blood
by Alex Fox/Smithsonianmag.com
Humans owe a debt to the strange-looking, ancient horseshoe crab. Its blue blood is used in medicine to ensure that anything that gets injected or implanted into the human body is free of potentially life-threatening bacterial contamination. A special compound in the crab’s blood quickly clots in the presence of endotoxins, microbial byproducts that can be harmful, supplying a perfect natural test for purity. In the race to find a COVID-19 vaccine, horseshoe crab blood is very important.
But an estimated 50,000 crabs die during the annual blood harvest, and these ancient arthropods are also being threatened by pollution, overfishing and habitat loss due to sea level rise, reported Sarah Zhang in the Atlantic in 2018. Moreover, humans aren’t the only ones depending on the crabs (which are actually more closely related to spiders than true crabs). Migratory birds such as the threatened red knot are sustained by the blue-gray bunches of eggs the shelled creatures deposit by the thousands on beaches along the east coast of the United States.
For these reasons, animal rights groups, conservationists and a handful of companies have been pushing for the development and approval of synthetic alternatives to the milky-blue crab blood, reports James Gorman for the New York Times.