Horseshoe Crab Blood
by Rita Goldner
On the evolution timetable, we humans are relatively the new kids on the block. We have been here in our current form for about 200,000 years. The horseshoe crab, however, has been here in almost the same form for roughly 450 million years. In all that time, he has evolved some amazing defense mechanisms. His greatest feat, (at least in the opinion of humans) is developing blood with the remarkable ability to detect bacteria. These animals spend most of their time close to shore, where bacteria is abundant. If they get even a slight crack in their shells, bacteria will invade. Their blood is able to find contamination in amounts as small as one part per trillion. Their reaction time to the infection is 45 minutes, not two days, like mammals’ white blood cell defense system.
For the last 50 years, the biomedical industry has been harvesting a quarter of a million horseshoe crabs a year, draining 30 percent of their blood and releasing them back into the ocean. Theoretically, most survive and replenish their blood supply within a month. The FDA has approved the use of this blood in detecting contamination in vaccines, as well as implanted medical and dental devices like pacemakers and joint replacements. Some contamination from bacteria byproducts can remain even after sterilization of scalpels, etc., and this quality checking method is far superior to any used in the past. In modern times, anyone who receives a flu shot, an intravenous solution, or has their pet receive a vaccination can thank a horseshoe crab for their safety.
Not surprisingly, there’s a profit motive, too, since the blood sells for $15,000 a quart. Scientists have been scurrying around trying to find a synthetic alternative, but so far nothing has been good enough to earn FDA approval.
This whole topic, if you want to research it on the internet, is comprised of countless facets: videos of the blood extraction process, the controversy about how overfishing may threaten the population, the history of the biomedical research and discovery, etc. I’m a research junkie, so be assured that I have fallen down several fascinating but time-stealing rabbit holes while writing this post. As usual in my posts, I try to segue into a concept or analogy that I can use in my daily adventure of being an author. Therefore, I am going to avoid those detours and dive right into the physiology of the crab’s defense mechanism, wherein lies the metaphor.
When the crab’s blood (which is light blue, by the way, although that nugget of info has nothing to do with the story) detects even a minute presence of bacteria after a cut or puncture, it immediately forms a tiny gel blob around the invader. It doesn’t kill or expel the bacteria, but imprisons it in this impenetrable gel, where it can do no harm. My metaphor sprang to mind when I was thinking of how we people in creative pursuits are bombarded with assailants, in the form of distractions, bad reviews, self-doubt, and relatives telling us to get a real job. If we just put an escape-proof gel around these impediments in a very specific and limited area, it’s a lot better than walling ourselves off from the whole cruel world.
An example of the latter choice appeared at a recent informal author mixer. I was talking to another author about joining a critique group, and she was adamant about never doing that. She said any negative criticism would derail her creativity; she planned to just finish her book in secrecy and then submit it to agents and publishers. She didn’t subscribe to the concept of taking in all the feedback you can get, and then putting a gel coating around the parts that are irrelevant or not working, while you digest the good parts. Sometimes the offending intruder in your creative life is your boss or a relative. Like the crab, you can’t kill them or expel them from your life, but you can covertly wrap just the toxic parts of them in the gel of irrelevance.
Another case in point was a gentleman I met at another mixer. He was cautious about trading critiques with authors he felt weren’t as good as he was, to the extent that he wouldn’t even accept a business card from someone without checking their website first. He was a new author, unpublished, and felt he would improve faster if he only associated with established authors, so he walled himself off from other newbies. Dead wrong, in my opinion, since newbies are still readers who can see inconsistencies or confusing parts in your story. Another set of eyes is always valuable. If your critiquers are very inexperienced, you can encapsulate the uninformed parts of their comments, and keep the rest.
Rita Goldner is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, Orangutan: A Day in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series. For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book (also available as an ebook), visit OrangutanDay.com. Or by the Kindle version here. Rita’s newest book, Making Marks on the World: A Storybook for Left- and Right-Handed Coloring, is available for purchase here. To view additional illustrations and other books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook.