Bloody Expensive

When receiving blood for a transfusion, from the Red Cross, you can expect to pay about 40 cents per milliliter. If you were to buy the perfume Chanel No.5, it would cost you somewhat more at $2.34 per milliliter. However, if you were to try and purchase horseshoe crab blood, you will be charged an astounding $15.85 per ml!

Photo by tbarbaro1
Photo by tbarbaro1

Horseshoe crab’s live in an environment rich in bacteria and many other infectious organism. Fungi, bacteria, and toxins pose threats to the crabs on a daily basis. To prevent infection, horseshoe crab blood has developed a creative compound (Limulus Amebocyte Lysate or LAL) that clots around any endotoxins (produced by bacteria). When researchers discovered this in 1971, a use for the blood emerged.

Horseshoe crab shell Photo by Epsilon
Horseshoe crab shell
Photo by Epsilon

When implanting a surgical device, there must be an assurance that the device is clean. The most reliable method is the LAL test, using Limulus Amebocyte Lysate from horseshoe crab blood. In fact, the test is actually required by the FDA for such things, as well as a test for any drug before it becomes FDA certified.

An example of an LAL test, costing roughly $336
An example of an LAL test, costing roughly $336

What is the process for getting LAL? First, the blood is collected from about 250,000 crabs on a yearly basis. Usually the crabs survive this every year, however, an estimated 3-15% die from the process. The crabs are currently the only source for LAL (in this $50 million industry), so until another method is found horseshoe crabs will continue to be bled for humanity’s survival.

Horseshoe crabs being bled. Because their blood is copper-based, not iron-based, it is blue.
Horseshoe crabs being bled.
Because their blood is copper-based, not iron-based, it is blue.

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