Horseshoe Crab Blood: Used to Test for Bacterial Contamination in Medical Supplies
This one is not a treatment for people. But a shocking revelation, nonetheless. Horseshoe crab blood contains a special clotting agent called Limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL) which can detect bacterial endotoxins in medical supplies such as vaccines, intravenous drugs, and medical implants. Bacterial endotoxins are substances produced by certain types of bacteria that can cause severe reactions in humans if present in medical supplies. The LAL test, which was first developed in the 1970s, is a quick and accurate way to detect the presence of these endotoxins.
To obtain the LAL from horseshoe crabs, the crabs are captured and taken to a laboratory where a small amount of their blood is extracted. The crabs are then released back into the wild. The blood is processed to extract the LAL, which is then used in the testing of medical supplies. Although the harvesting of horseshoe crab blood does not harm the crabs, it can be stressful for them and some do not survive the process. Efforts are being made to develop synthetic alternatives to LAL, but these have not yet been widely adopted. In the meantime, the horseshoe crab population is carefully monitored and efforts are made to minimize the impact of the harvesting process on their numbers.