Horseshoe crabs are a key ingredient in making coronavirus vaccine, according to a report published in the World Economic Forum. As per the report, currently, there are 400 coronavirus drugs and vaccines in development, which all need to be tested using horseshoe crab blood. Horseshoe crab blood, which is blue in colour and is often referred to as blue gold because of the sky-touching price, is instrumental in the testing of vaccines around the world as it helps in detecting fatal bacterial endotoxins in drugs.
"Since the late 1970s, the clotting agent in the Atlantic horseshoe crab’s blood has been used for the Limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL) test, which detects bacterial endotoxins in drugs and intravenous devices. This kind of contamination could be harmful and even fatal to patients if it gets into the bloodstream. Scientists take about a third of a horseshoe crab’s blood for use in the tests, after which the creature is released back into the ocean. Companies that make LAL tests say the animals are not harmed during the procedure," the WEF report said.
Horseshoe crab blood is blue because it is rich in copper and it clots when it encounters bacteria, making it both a lifesaver to the horseshoe crab and essential to making drugs today. Horseshoe crabs are commonly fished off the East Coast of the United States for use in medicine.
"About 70 million endotoxin tests are performed annually in a roughly $1 billion market. And the horseshoe crab blood currently so essential to its operation is thought to be worth about $16,000 dollars a litre", WEF quoted Bloomberg in its report. The blood is going to be essential in making the COVID-19 vaccine and providing billions of doses that will be needed around the world until a man-made alternative is developed.
Environmentalists are worried that this may result in the decline of horseshoe population and their habitat, which would affect the ecosystem as it helps other creatures too, like providing food for bird species. According to some estimates, 15 percent of horseshoe crabs die as a result of the process of scientists taking their blood for use in tests. There is also concern the horseshoe crab is facing pressure as a result of it being used as bait for fishing.