Horseshoe crabs survival rate after biomedical bleeding is high

May 07, 2002

BLACKSBURG, Va - Faculty from the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences in the College of Natural Resources and the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech had the first ever major review article on horseshoe crabs published in the journal, Review in Fisheries Science journal. Elizabeth A. Walls, while a graduate student in fisheries and wildlife sciences; Jim Berkson, assistant professor in fisheries and wildlife sciences; and Stephen A. Smith, professor in biomedical sciences; reviewed the general biology, ecology, and life history of the horseshoe crab in the article "The Horseshoe Crab, Limulus polyphemus: 200 Million Years of Existence, 100 Years of Study."

The review article discusses the various economic stakeholders involved with the horseshoe crab, including eco-tourism groups associated with bird-watching, the commercial fishermen who use the horseshoe crab as bait, and the biomedical industry with its increasing demand for horseshoe crab blood for endotoxin testing. The article reviews the reported economic impacts of horseshoe crabs, the status and management of the horseshoe crabs now and projected in the future, and alternatives to using horseshoe crabs as a blood source.

"We do have results from a number of our studies at this point," Berkson says. "We have found that the mortality of horseshoe crabs that undergo the biomedical bleeding process is only 7.5 percent. That is astounding considering how much blood is taken out of the crabs. We would expect it to be much higher. This may be an indication of how the crabs have survived for 350 million years."

Berkson adds, "We also have new information on where horseshoe crabs are found in the ocean, how far they migrate, and the presence of possible nursery grounds, where juveniles are at particular risk from the commercial fishery."

Virginia Tech's Horseshoe Crab Research Center opened this year in response to the multiple uses for the horseshoe. "LAL is a chemical found in horseshoe crab blood used to detect the presence of endotoxins in injectible drugs and implantable devices. The chemical is more important than ever due to the anti-terrorism efforts," explains Berkson. "All vaccines, including smallpox and anthrax, must be tested for the presence of endotoxins using LAL." The research at the Horseshoe Crab Research Center is designed to provide the information needed to sustainably maintain this essential natural resource.
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Virginia Tech

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