During World War Two, soldiers learned to fear treatment as much as enemy bullets. Unsanitary conditions and equipment in field hospitals made open wounds a breeding ground for bacteria that killed thousands, particularly the fast-acting and barely detectable gram-negative strains that caused toxic shock syndrome, meningitis, and typhoid.
Today, vast improvements in medical hygiene have greatly reduced the odds of patients being poisoned on the treatment table.
And our safety is protected by an unlikely source – the bright blue blood of a horseshoe crab.
The helmet-shaped creature has developed a unique defense to compensate for its vulnerability to infection in shallow waters.
When faced with toxins produced by bacteria, amebocyte cells in the blood — colored blue by their copper-based molecules — identify and congeal around the invading matter, trapping the threat inside a gel-like seal that prevents it from spreading.
Nature’s method is now utilized on a grand scale. Over 600,000 crabs are captured each year during the spring mating season, to “donate” around 30% of their blood in a handful of specialist facilities in the United States and Asia. The blood is worth $60,000 a gallon in a global industry valued at $50 million a year.
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