Few species deserve the award of the epithet ‘living fossil’, and one of them is the Atlantic horseshoe crab (Limulus Polyphemus), which is in danger of extinction if measures are not taken to control the exploitation of their blood of blue color by pharmaceutical companies.
This crab, which belongs to the species of the order of the xiphosurans, with its so particular anatomy, has evolved very little during the last 475 million years; nevertheless, now it is in a great predicament because of the action of humans. Apart from the pharmaceutical utility of its blood, the group of animals to which the horseshoe crab belongs is on the list of vulnerable species or about to disappear from the face of the planet, due to climate change and pollution.
The young activist Caitlin O’Connor has launched through the Change.org platform an important and strenuous campaign to ask those responsible for the Food and Drug Administration of the United States (FDA) and the Administration of Environmental Protection (EPA) the implementation of measures to reduce the death of crabs horseshoes in the production of substances of pharmaceutical utility. He is looking to protect them and save them from extinction. The initiative was set to target the lifting of 35,000 signatures.
The proposal of Caitlin O’Connor is not intended to prohibit the medical use of blood or hemolymph of horseshoe crabs, but to prevent the extract that is made from this species with its blue liquid, causing the undesirable death of the animal and, simultaneously, it is conducive to search for synthetic alternatives so that tomorrow will avoid more damage to this very old species.
Despite what designates its most popular name (horseshoe crab), the Limulus Polyphemus is phylogenetically closer to spiders than to crabs.
The adult specimens are up to 50 centimeters long and have a segmented body in the form of a carapace composed of three lobes, while the legs, appendages and eyes are in the belly area.
It’s known of large populations of this species in the Gulf of Mexico, the North Atlantic and on the northern coast of Vietnam. They inhabit the seabed of sand and their food is based on mollusks, worms and other invertebrates.
The blood or hemolymph of horseshoe crabs contains hemocyanin, a protein rich in copper, which performs tasks of oxygen transport through the animal’s body. In contact with oxygen, the hemocyanin turns blue. The hemolymph of this species also contains amoebocytes, which are very similar and with functions similar to those of leukocytes of vertebrates, which react with bacterial endotoxins to coagulate. The extract of the blood of this animal, the Limulus Amebocyte Lysate or LAL, is widely used in medicine in order to verify the presence of endotoxins in injectable intravenous solutions.
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