Why We Harvest the Blue Blood of Millions of These Alien-Looking Creatures

Photo: PBS Nature Documentary Crash: A Tale of Two Species (PBS)

What if we were to tell you that if you ever taken a medicine, ever had an injection, or had surgical implants like pacemakers and prosthetic devices, then you owe your life to these ancient, alien looking animals with blue blood.

Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic has the fascinating story of the horseshoe crab and how its blue blood has strange medical properties that allow us to test for the presence of bacterial contaminant - even at the concentrations of just one part per trillion:

The marvelous thing about horseshoe crab blood, though, isn't the color. It's a chemical found only in the amoebocytes of its blood cells that can detect mere traces of bacterial presence and trap them in inescapable clots. ...

When the crab blood cells sense invaders, they release granules of the chemical, which becomes a gooey physical barrier to the movement of the bacteria, preventing the spread of infection. The best metaphor might be the superpower of the X-Men's Iceman, but instead of using cold to encase enemies, the horseshoe crab instead uses its remarkable chemistry.

Read more about the fascinating biology of the horseshoe crab's blood over at The Atlantic, or watch the PBS excerpt below:

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