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Horseshoe crabs are drained for their blue blood. That practice will soon be over.
The blood of horseshoe crabs is harvested on a massive scale in order to retrieve a cell critical to medical research. However, recent innovations might make this practice obsolete.
- Horseshoe crabs' blue blood is so valuable that a quart of it can be sold for $15,000.
- This is because it contains a molecule that is crucial to the medical research community.
- Today, however, new innovations have resulted in a synthetic substitute that may end the practice of farming horseshoe crabs for their blood.
One of humanity's strangest and most macabre activities is slowly coming to an end, a trend that every horseshoe crab should celebrate. For the time being, however, hundreds of thousands of horseshoe crabs are being harvested from the ocean off the US's east coast and drained of their valuable blue blood.
It's a surreal practice, but there's good reason for it. Limulus Polyphemus—the Atlantic horseshoe crab—has extremely valuable blood. Unlike the blood of vertebrates, horseshoe crabs do not use hemoglobin to transport oxygen throughout their body. Instead, they use hemocyanin, a chemical that gives their blood that distinctive blue color – but this isn't what makes their blood so valuable. Instead, it's the kind of immune cells they carry.
Life-saving blue blood
Vertebrates carry white blood cells in their blood streams; invertebrates like the horseshoe crab carry amebocytes instead. When an amebocyte comes into contact with a pathogen, it releases a chemical that causes the local blood to clot, which researchers believe is a mechanism for isolating dangerous pathogens. Specifically, the amebocytes in horseshoe crab blood solidifies when it comes into contact with endotoxins, a pervasive and sometimes deadly product of bacteria that kicks immune systems into gear, sometimes resulting in fever, organ failure, or septic shock.
The presence of endotoxins in drugs, needles, or anything that comes into contact with human blood is a serious problem. Researchers used to give rabbits a sample of whatever material or substance they were interested in and observe them for hours to see if their immune system reacted, implying the presence of endotoxins. But the amebocytes in horseshoe blood were a game changer—instead of conducting time-consuming tests on rabbits, horseshoe crab amebocytes could be added to a sample of a substance. If the sample started to clot, then endotoxins were there.
The substance derived from horseshoe blood is called Limulus Amebocyte Lysate, or LAL, and it quickly became nearly as valuable as gold. Thanks to the ubiquity of endotoxins and the dire need to test for their presence, a quart of horseshoe crab blood could fetch $15,000. To cash in, companies harvest as many as 600,000 crabs a year. Up to 30% of their blood is drained before they are returned to the ocean, although a procedure this traumatic obviously entails some mortality. Estimates vary wildly. Some official sources put the mortality estimate at around 3 or 4%, but these figures typically represent mortality directly resulting from transportation and handling. Other organizations put the mortality rate as high as 30%.
A new substitute
A horseshoe crab heading for the ocean.
Fortunately for horseshoe crabs, this practice may be dying out. Researchers discovered that a molecule in LAL called factor C was responsible for its clotting action. Researchers genetically modified the guts of insects—who belong to the same phylum as horseshoe crabs, Arthropoda—to produce factor C. As a result, the insects began pumping out factor C, which could then be sold as recombinant factor C (rFC) on the market as a viable substitute to horseshoe crab blood.
Though rFC has been on the market since 2003, it's been slow to gain traction. Initially, it was only being produced by one manufacturer, the Lonza Group. Pharmaceutical companies are wary to rely on a single manufacturer in case an emergency occurs, and their supply is cut off. The Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) regulatory process was quite slow as well. But these obstacles are gradually being overcome. Hyglos GmbH, another pharmaceutical manufacturer, began producing rFC in 2013. European regulatory bodies have approved its use, which lays the groundwork for future approval by the FDA. Major pharmaceutical companies who have used rFC have confirmed that it works just as well as LAL. Today, experts believe that rFC will become the dominant method of detecting endotoxins, letting horseshoe crabs off the hook.
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
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Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
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