By Doug Fraser
EAST FALMOUTH — For 450 million years, horseshoe crabs have scuttled along the ocean floor, coming ashore to lay eggs.
You need pretty strong defenses to survive mass extinctions and the oversized predators that evolved before man came on the scene. While its helmeted body certainly protected it, the horseshoe crab, living in a bacterial soup, had another defense — blood that quickly clotted to stop infection from cuts and loss of limbs.
Just as it is for this primordial animal, bacteria is all around us.
“It’s not dangerous until it crosses the blood wall,” said Brett Hoffmeister, limulous amebocyte lysate (LAL) production manager for Associates of Cape Cod in East Falmouth. “If it gets into the blood or spinal fluid, you have a problem.”
Because of its quick and detectable response to bacteria, horseshoe crab blood is used in testing anything that can be surgically implanted, injected or swallowed as medication. That includes hip replacements, heart stents, pharmaceuticals, intravenous solutions and vaccines such as the annual flu vaccine, and the coronavirus vaccines now in development with potentially worldwide distribution.
While other tests exist like synthetic LAL and a human blood test, LAL bacterial endotoxin testing is the gold standard, Hoffmeister said.
The LAL test was first developed in Falmouth by Jack Levin and Frederik Bang of Marine Biological Laboratory. Associates of Cape Cod, the first company licensed to manufacture it, was founded in 1974 by Stanley Watson, a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution senior scientist who investigated the horseshoe crab extract as a way to measure bacterial biomass in seawater. Read more …
Photo credit: Merrily Cassidy, Cape Cod Times