Because every drug certified by the FDA must be tested using the horseshoe crab derivative known as Limulus lysate, a multimillion-dollar industry has emerged involving the license to bleed horseshoe crabs and the rights to their breeding grounds. William Sargent presents a thoroughly accessible insider's guide to the discovery of the lysate test, the exploitation of the horseshoe crab at the hands of multinational pharmaceutical conglomerates, local fishing interests, and the legal and governmental wrangling over the creatures' ultimate fate. In the end, the story of the horseshoe crab is a sobering reflection on the unintended consequences of scientific progress and the danger of self-regulated industries controlling a limited natural resource.
This new edition brings the story up to date as companies race to manufacture alternatives to the horseshoe crab blood, which is now essential for testing vaccines such as those developed to counter COVID-19. However, horseshoe crab populations are still dwindling, with profound implications not only for the future of the crabs themselves but also for the ecosystems that depend on them.
Part I: Early Lessons
Chapter 1: A Day in the Life of a Hunter-Gatherer
Chapter 2: Carl Shuster
Chapter 3: First Lessons
Chapter 4: At an Ancient Orgy
Part II: Commercialization
Chapter 5: The Conversation
Chapter 6: Bleeding the Crab
Chapter 7: Crabs and Ponies
Chapter 8: "Flugate"
Chapter 9: Confessions of a Horseshoe Crab Farmer
Chapter 10: A Garden
Part III: Environmental Conflicts
Chapter 11: Fishing for Bait: The Conch and Eel Fisheries
Chapter 12: A Day at the Beach: Red Knots and Horseshoe Crabs
Chapter 13: The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
Chapter 14: Jay Harrington vs. Bruce Babbitt
Chapter 15: A Bizarre Incident
Chapter 16: The Decision
Chapter 17: The Loophole
Chapter 18: Raw Lysate: A New Industry
Chapter 19: Numbers, Numbers, Numbers
Chapter 20: Dr. Ling Jaek Ding
Chapter 21: Three Surprises
Chapter 22: The New Kid on the Block: Pease Industrial Park Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Chapter 23: On Pins and Needles: Operation Warp Speed
Chapter 24: Three Asian Crabs
Chapter 25: Afterthoughts
William Sargent is a consultant for the NOVA Science Series and is the author of numerous books about science and the environment, including A Year in the Notch: Exploring the Natural History of the White Mountains and Storm Surge: A Coastal Village Battles the Rising Atlantic. Formerly director of the Baltimore Aquarium and a research assistant at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, he has taught at the Briarwood Center for Marine Biology and at Harvard University.
Reviews of the first edition:
"A popular interest book about how a 300 million year old organism became essential to the modern pharmaceutical industry. Sargent traces the discovery of horseshoe crab blood as the perfect in-vitro test for gram-negative bacteria through the development of a multi-million dollar business. He recounts the battles between multinational pharmaceutical companies to "bleed" enough crabs for Limulus lysate and the demand for crabs by the bait fishery. Regulation of the fishery by individual states complicates the issue of preserving this natural resource."
– Northeastern Naturalist
"Makes for fascinating reading [...] Crab Wars offers a compact introduction to the horseshoe crab and the controversy it has recently engendered."
– Journal of the History of Biology
"Here's a species older than time, a species key to the great migrations transecting our planet – and in the space of a few years our short-term interests have brought it close to ruin. It's a powerful metaphor (one wishes it were only a metaphor) and its tale is told with enormous care and balance. And with just the faintest hint of optimism at the end."
– Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature