Horseshoe crabs could be wiped out by the pharmaceutical industry • Earth.com
Horseshoe crabs are ancient creatures that emerged before dinosaurs and have managed to survive a variety of environmental stressors, such as massive extinctions and multiple ice ages, over their 450-year history. However, environmentalists warn that these crustaceans may soon become extinct due to humans using them to test a wide variety of drugs and vaccines.
One of their most amazing and unique features is the way their bright blue blood clots when exposed to harmful bacterial endotoxins which usually cause inflammation and fever, often causing anaphylactic shock and death. These toxins are responsible for venereal disease, bacterial meningitis, cholera, bubonic plague and many other diseases. Immune cells in the blood of horseshoe crabs, containing immune cells called Limulus amibosyte lysates (LAL), trap and immobilize these endotoxins, rendering them inert.
Ironically, the same characteristic that helped them survive through the ages can now bring crabs to extinction. Since the 1960s, when scientists discovered this extraordinary defensive system, the blood of crabs has been used extensively to test drugs, vaccines (including recent coronaviruses), needles, and biomedical devices to ensure that they are not contaminated.
Scientists do this by draining crabs of their blood and, although they then return them to the ocean, up to 30% of the creatures die.
“Right now, the entire supply chain for drug endotoxin testing relies on harvesting a vulnerable or nearly extinct sea creature,” said Kevin Williams, researcher at bioMérieux, a French multinational biotechnology company.
According to a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in marine sciences, “In the United States, 525,000 horseshoe crabs per year were caught between 2013 and 2017 and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission estimates short-term bleeding-induced mortality at 15 percent (4 to 30 percent). cent), resulting in the mortality of approximately 78,750 horseshoe crabs each year in recent years including a minor portion.
Fortunately, many pharmaceutical companies in Europe and Asia have recently switched to a synthetic product called the Recombinant Factor C (rFC) assay, which appears to be able to detect bacterial endotoxins as reliably as LAL. However, since this alternative is more expensive and time-consuming to use, in the United States the only large company that has switched to rFCs is Ely Lily. It is only if many more companies take this route that this magnificent ancestral creature will have a chance to survive.
Through Andrei Ionescu, Terre.com Editor-in-chief