Why are horseshoe crabs essential to biotechnology?

First of all, let’s chat biotechnology, or, ‘biotech’, as those in the industry call it.

The concept of biotech has been around for ages, just, not given the fancy term. For instance, planting seeds to produce food, fermenting juice for wine and churning milk into cheese are all processes that use some derivative of a plant or animal to benefit mankind. In the biotechnology and pharmaceutical fields of today, the Atlantic horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) blood is a very important component in the process for testing drugs that can benefits humans.

Their blood is used for the  Limulus Amebocyte Lysate (LAL) test is used to test for gram negative bacteria contamination in certain products before being released to the public. Horseshoe crab blood cells (amoebocytes) attach to harmful toxins produced by some types of gram negative bacterias. What is unique with the LAL, is that LAL does not distinguish between living or dead gram negative bacteria and detects either.

You do not want anything with a gram negative bacteria contamination. Gram negative contamination include: Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Neisseria meningitidis, Hemophilus influenzae, Klebsiella pneumonia.

The blood of the horseshoe crab has this unbelievable property where it will congeal in the presence of either living or dead gram negative bacteria (both are undesirable). This adaptation has never been able to be duplicated and consequently horseshoe crabs are often captured to have their blood drained and then released, all in the name of science.

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