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Biomedical companies bleed 500k horseshoe crabs a year (popularmechanics.com)
188 points by kharms on April 17, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 141 comments

I found a few interesting facts during the first 10 minutes or so of googling this:

1. Bled crabs die at higher than reported rates (Closer to 20%-25% than the reported ~10%-15%)

2. Bled crabs are back at full blood capacity in a week, and usually fully functional within 2-3 months.

3. This crab blood is seriously important to modern medicine (duh?, but hey its nice to have confirmation)

4. Population numbers are all guesses, and I couldn't find a number which I'd be willing to bet on. Low number was ~600k (mature crabs) high number was several million.

5. Losing blood and being thrown back into the ocean is an order of magnitude better than being chopped up and used as bait.

6. A huge number of these crabs get chopped up and used as bait. They're valued at ~$2 each, as bait :(

7. These crabs lay upwards of 50k eggs per season, per female. A specific bird, the Red Knot, which doesn't seem to doesn't have magic medicinally valuable blood shows up and treats the eggs like an all you can eat buffet.

8. The Red Knot population has been on the rebound, thanks to conservation efforts revolving around the horseshoe crab, and the expanded food supply that offers.

Enough other people have gone over the various moral issues with this, and I don't think I'd be able to add much there. To me, the whole situation seems trivial to solve, via enhanced conservation efforts, and heavily reduced bait harvesting. Probably wouldn't hurt to make a few Red Knot omelettes too. Bleed + Release > Bait harvest/baby crab genocide via bird.

The idea that this isn't "fishing" because they're tossed back afterward is really beyond me. Seems about equivalent to chopping the fin off a shark and then dumping what remains into the water to bleed out and die.

With proper regulation, it seems possible this could be done somewhat humanely— particularly if the draw from any one crab was strictly limited, and their time out of water was also very limited. Eg, if the facilities were right on board the boat, so it would out and back in all within in the span of a few hours.

> The idea that this isn't "fishing" because they're tossed back afterward is really beyond me. Seems about equivalent to chopping the fin off a shark and then dumping what remains into the water to bleed out and die.

I guess I'm missing something, how is this in any way comparable to that? They're not cutting off a piece of the crab, just drawing some blood and putting them back. Why would they bleed out and die? Do humans bleed out and die after drawing blood?

I agree but I also don't think its fair to assume this doesn't damage them. Humans and crabs are not the same so I don't think unless you are a subject matter expert you should be drawing conclusions like this.

According to an article I read last night (might be the same article as this one) - they are trying to figure out if this is the case; in short, they believe there are effects (seems a reasonable thought!), but they don't know just yet what they are, or how severe they are.

So they simulated this with a bunch of crabs - caught a bunch, let them sit out in the sun for a while, transported them, bled them, let them sit some more, then tossed them back in. Half of them they didn't bleed (control); before they tossed them in, they attached tracking devices to their backs, and are monitoring their movements.

Now - they don't say what the data they got back is or means or which crabs they came from. But from the article, it's apparent that at least some of the crabs are still moving around and are alive. How many, what they are doing, if they are acting normal - none of that is mentioned.

It will be interesting in what they eventually find. I don't think it's reasonable to say there isn't any effect from the practices they describe - it certainly seems like there could be issues based on the conditions and amount of blood drawn (and the fact that they aren't breathing while out of water - for what sounds like several days minimum!). What I hope they find is that things aren't as bad as feared, but that some minor changes can be made to make the creatures less stressed.

Hopefully we'll find out very soon...

I really appreciate such a detail response! Generally speaking I wish more programs that involved animals were treated with this type of respect and not the assumption that it isn't harmful without due diligence.

> Do humans bleed out and die after drawing blood?

If you take a third of it, then throw them in the woods to fend for themselves, some definitely will.

Almost all will die without medical care.

Class III Hemorrhage involves loss of 30-40% of circulating blood volume. The patient's blood pressure drops, the heart rate increases, peripheral hypoperfusion (shock), such as capillary refill worsens, and the mental status worsens. Fluid resuscitation with crystalloid and blood transfusion are usually necessary.

Even without taking blood, most humans would not survive in the wild anyway, unlike the horseshoe crabs.

They drain a third of its blood, and they could easily be drawing from an animal that has already been recently caught. They can be out of water for days. Comparing this to a minor inconvenience is a deeply inaccurate analogy.

> is asinine

This breaks the HN guideline against calling names in arguments: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html. Please don't do that in comments here, or edit it out when it slips in.

So while I understand your sentiment I actually have to respectfully disagree. There's a difference between calling an argument foolish and calling a person foolish.

"Comparing this to a minor inconvenience is intellectually dishonest" <- rough paraphrasing of the comment


"I read what you wrote, you are intellectually dishonest" <- a true attack against a person

The comment may not have been terribly civil (and that's a good reason for criticism) but I honestly don't see it as name calling.

The guideline doesn't say "don't call people names"; they say "don't call names." Here's the text:

When disagreeing, please reply to the argument instead of calling names. E.g. "That is idiotic; 1 + 1 is 2, not 3" can be shortened to "1 + 1 is 2, not 3."

That is my point of view as well. I changed it to your paraphrasing, though.

'Intellectually dishonest' is still name-calling in the sense of being a generic pejorative that adds no information. So it still breaks that guideline. As shortimer pointed out, it isn't about personal attacks. Personal attacks are certainly not ok here, but other things are not ok too.

The guideline contains practical advice for how to edit the name-calling out of these things: simply shorten them. In this case, "Comparing X to Y is intellectually dishonest [or asinine]" can be shortened to "X is not Y".

Ah, that makes much more sense then! Thanks for the clarification.

Is there a rate limit on editing? I can no longer change my post, but I will keep this in mind.

[edit] - Appreciated.

There is (2 hours) but I'll turn it off that post above.

They mark the crabs' shells so they aren't bled more than once per season.

That's good to know; I was wondering if it would be possible to do something like that. Obviously it requires the cooperation of everyone doing this to ensure that the marks are made correctly, and respected.

>While several companies have come up with synthetic alternatives for detecting the presence of endotoxins in vaccines, medicine, and medical instruments, LAL is still the only test that has received FDA approval.

I wish they would have elaborated on this. Are the alternatives known to be inferior at this time, or are they promising, but stuck in the long, complicated approval process?

AFAIK, they're inferior.

But a different, better avenue to avoid using the LAL test is to simply not have endotoxin present in the first place [0]. If at least vaccines and medicines can be produced in strains without LAL-positive LPS, that should lower the test's usage significantly.

[0] https://microbialcellfactories.biomedcentral.com/articles/10...

The common sense answer is that an alternative which was inferior would never be developed to the point of submission for FDA approval, as it would not be viable to take to market.

But the article says the crab blood costs $14,000 per quart - if something works "well enough" and can be made synthetically, certainly it could be used in some cases due to the cost alone.

For example, consider if there is a simple case where the test is not administered at all today in some cases, due to the cost. (Use your imagination.) In that case "good enough" to quickly administer for a quick read, might well be a very low threshold indeed! Who says "good enough to administer" must be "the best level in existence"?

> "well enough"

This is the medical field. There is no well enough.

Even modeling for cancer detection we do 95% and medical device they do 99% confidence interval IIRC. And with model, we choose sensitivity over specificity. We rather accidentally diagnosed them with cancer over accidentally say they don't have cancer when they do.

Also FDA might have a bar what well enough is, and it could high enough that other companies cannot pass it.

What makes you think I thought "good enough" means 55% or 60% efficient, or whatever you object to? Good enough might mean 99% of the time.

You said it yourself!

>Even modeling for cancer detection we do 95% and medical device they do 99% confidence interval IIRC

So, in these applications, 95% and 99% respectively is the meaning of good enough.

So to put these in crab terms: maybe the crabs do it at 99.99% (3.89 sigma) and the synthetic they want to push through is only 99%, only 2.5 sigma.

So I am saying 99% can be good enough in some contexts - just as you've said.

Especially if it costs thousands to do it a la crab.

It doesn't have to be better than the crabs' blood to be good enough.

I was a software developer at a company that produces LAL-based endotoxin tests. The best alternative[0] is an enzyme produced recombinantly in insect cells. It triggers an enzymatic reaction similar to LAL's (but more complicated).

It is effective for testing most of the same products as LAL, and it has been accepted as an "alternative method" by the FDA and European Pharmacopeia. That means it can be used but with more extensive, expensive validation testing. There are some products it's not compatible with, and there is a small set of products that are more easily tested with the alternative enzyme.

Also interesting that the article doesn't mention the standard before the LAL method was discovered: rabbits were injected with the test material and monitored for developing a fever.


There is a great little startup in the EU working to biosynthesize LAL:


It's a RebelBio (née IndieBio EU) company.

Will the synthetic enzyme be a direct substitute in the standard LAL enzyme chain? Or will it be an alternative reaction like Lonza's PyroGene?


great to see you here. I left Sothic recently, let's get back in touch :^)

>Biomedical/pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to devote time and resources to qualify an alternative method as they are concerned that regulators will not accept the alternative method. However, the pharmacopeia publications include chapters that directly address what is needed to qualify an alternative method so that it will be acceptable by regulators.

Classic chicken and egg problem here. These companies don't want to invest in the lengthy regulatory approval process because they aren't sure they'll pass so progress on these alternative methods gets stalled, thus ensuring they look sub-optimal on paper, so the perceived risk level is probably higher than it should be.

Considering there are two alternatives here, one involving synthetically cloning DNA and the other simply using human blood, I can probably see why industry is slow to move off the crab blood process. The former is most likely much more expensive and patent encumbered, while the later involves harvesting humans instead of crabs. Human blood is needed for transfusions and has a high demand, so it makes sense to just use animal blood for endotoxin testing.


could the blood not be taken from the dead? Blood is already drained in the embalming process. I'm guessing it'd need consent similar to organ donation though.

Most people die quietly in hospice or at home, not in the ER, so there's a logistical problem here. Red blood cells start dying in minutes after host death, so you don't have a lot of time on your hands in common scenarios. Biologically, you want healthy blood full of red blood cells not blood low on red blood cells and full of white blood cells which can cause complications.

The dead also can't answer questions about their illness history. There's a lot of legwork with blood that organs don't typically require.

The Russians did some research into cadaveric blood transfusions.

The blood is still usable for several hours after clinical death.

I'm not sure about the suitability of using blood from old, sick and/or heavily medicated people.

is it not possible to find out the relevant answers re. illness history (I'm guessing antibody presence?) from analysing the blood itself? I would've thought that all relevant answers about the blood's qualities would be detectable from the blood itself.

I'm not exactly sure why, but this makes me feel sadder than capturing and butchering meat in the modern not very humane way.

Just seeing these crabs with a history stretching back into ancient times, strapped in and needles inserted into them looks so awful. I don't want to believe it's considered acceptable practice in the modern era to do such things, regardless of its medical benefits.

Yeah, seeing them lined up being drained is just nightmarish and barbaric. I thinks it's a good visual demonstration of how humans view the world: if we can derive benefit or profit from it, we'll exploit it.

I agree with you. Just as bad is what's known as Bile Bears. Humanity has a ways to go with treatment of sentient creatures. Intelligence or species is not the predicate with which we should dole out misery. Ability to feel pain is the only thing that matters. And far too many of the creatures we put through screaming existences are too close to our own hearts...conscious feelers. That's all we really are beneath it all. Do onto others as you desire onto yourself.


I don't think it's even close ethically to torturing a bear. You know people boil crabs alive all the time, right?

I don't think this is a particularly good point to make. You're saying that since X happened and since X is worse than Y, we shouldn't care about Y.

There's been school shootings so single murders don't matter?

There were so many more deaths in world war two than in world war one, so WWI doesn't matter?

And this is ignoring the fact that your "worse" claim was based on your own personal ethics which is, at best, subjective.

People have a finite amount of time and energy. How do you choose what to prioritize if not by saying that some things are worse than others? They didn't say that some things don't matter, just that it doesn't come close ethically.

It's not quite the same thing, horseshoe blood actually has a real medical purpose.

Has anyone who is raising ethical concerns of this been around a horseshoe crab? They are essentially large insects. Killing a cockroach because it was in your house is objectively worse. It was just bugging you. This is saving human lives.

I think the main concern is that they might go extinct.

(Regarding the cockroach - don't Americans have the right to shoot human tresspassers? The crab on the other hand is plucked out of water which is its own home. This is not to say I'm against the practice - I'm not, unless the crab might go extinct.)

> don't Americans have the right to shoot human tresspassers?

That's a complicated question, but quite often "no" for mere trespass; the actual laws vary by state.

What about "stand your ground" and "castle" doctrines?

Both of these require active threats.

"Stand your ground" laws just mean there is no duty(law) to seek retreat above all else before actively defending yourself.

"Castle", in California, simply means that if an intruder has bypassed a control (picked a lock, broke a window, etc) to gain entry then one can proceed on the assumption that they are there to do grave bodily harm. (And thus act accordingly.)

> Both of these require active threats.

Close... they require the person standing-ground to perceive a threat. The laws do vary state-by-state, but they tend to be universally broad.

"For example, Michigan's stand-your-ground law, MCL 780.972, provides that "[a]n individual who has not or is not engaged in the commission of a crime at the time he or she uses deadly force may use deadly force against another individual anywhere he or she has the legal right to be with no duty to retreat if ... [t]he individual honestly and reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent" the imminent death, great bodily harm, or sexual assault of himself or another individual."

* Stand-your-ground law - Wikipedia || https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stand-your-ground_law

According to this, if I thought someone was a habitual sex offender, I think I'd be within my right to sniper him from a mile off... so... clearly that's a stretch... but it has been stretched pretty thin before.

* Joe Horn and Five Years with the Texas Castle Doctrine - The Texas Observer || https://www.texasobserver.org/joe-horn-and-castle-doctrine-s...

> It’s not that he wanted to shoot the intruders next door, he said, “but if I go out there to see what the hell’s going on, what choice am I going to have?” The dispatcher told him again to wait for the police, not to go outside with his shotgun, that nobody needed to die for stealing.

> Horn was unconvinced. “The laws have been changed…since September the first, and I have a right to protect myself,” Horn said. “I ain’t gonna let them get away with this shit. I’m sorry, this ain’t right, buddy … They got a bag of loot … Here it goes buddy, you hear the shotgun clicking and I’m going.”

> “Move, you’re dead,” he told the men, then he fired three times, killing both men, and returned to the phone in his house.

> “I had no choice, they came in the front yard with me, man, I had no choice,” he told the dispatcher. Police arrived seconds later. Horn wasn’t arrested, nor was he indicted by a grand jury that later considered the case.

IIRC IANAL: in a self defence situation you are required to use the least amount of force necessary or run away if possible (e.g. someone threatens to stab you in an alley. You may shoot them only if you can't escape. And you may only shoot them if there was no other option). The castle doctrine removes the «try to run away first» part, because it is not reasonable to expect someone to flee thier own home.

Stand-Your-Ground laws remove the «escape first» part outside of the home aswell.

You are always required to only respond with appropriate force. So you may not gun down someone who isn't a threat to your life.

Most versions of the "castle doctrine" while they have lower bars than is generally the case for self-defense outside of the home still require more than simple trespass (the term can apply to anything from merely eliminating the duty to retreat when in the home, to doing that plus presuming justification on a lower bar than would otherwise be the case.)

"Stand your ground" laws eliminate the duty to retreat outside the home for self-defense, but don't generally lower the justification threshold.

State dependent on whether those laws exist

A mentioned above, cockroaches are not a vulnerable species.

> This is saving human lives.

Maybe I'm weird, but I often wonder why we value our own kind so highly above all others. Is a human life that much more important/valuable than another species? If so, why?

Or is it just a preservation instinct?

yeah this is how we start starship troopers

Would you like to know more?

Cockroaches are not discriminate in where they walk. One could easily contaminate your food with feces.

Kill them just in case.

They should probably make sure they don't accidentally kill all of the horseshoe crabs, at least.

It may be small consolation, that in the mid term, only humans can prevent meteor strikes from re-extincting everything on this planet. 99 percent of every species that has ever existed is permanently extinct. That being said, I'd love to maintain or grow biodiversity, for it's where we will learn the most tricks to help ourselves in the mid term.

Thus, if it helps humans a bit, in the long run, it could help all the life on this planet. Also, these guys are working on the problem https://rebelbio.co/sothic-bioscience-saving-human-lives-and...

We most likely can't actually prevent a meteor strike.

There's plans to do it, but nothing will be ready for another few decades.

Even if we're lucky to detect it very early, we'd have to quickly create a delivery system for nuclear warheads all the way to the asteroid - ICBMs are not designed for orbit or escape. And then accurately rendezvous and detonate them. Just blowing an asteroid into smaller pieces is not acceptable.

It's possible in theory, but I'm not sure it will work in practice.

The probability that humans prevent a future planetary mass-extinction event from celestial impact, divided by the probability that horseshoe crabs prevent such an event is so large that it might as well be infinity. Horseshoe crabs don't even have a theoretical plan. They don't even have a Hollywood blockbuster movie about it.

So from a planetary ecosystem perspective, every species on Earth not directly involved with humans or horseshoe crabs should prefer to force the horseshoe crabs to help the humans in some way whenever they are able to do so. Those species should also prefer that humans not make horseshoe crabs extinct, just in case that they might be the critical link in some "for lack of a nail" causality chain which prevents humans from preventing the mass-extinction event.

It's very much like forbidding a brilliant researcher from doing his or her own cooking and laundry. You hire a less-brilliant assistant to take care of all mundane needs, so that the researcher is thinking about your important problem at peak efficiency.

Besides that, the guaranteed-to-work plan for dealing with a massive meteor strike is to transplant additional copies of Earth's ecosystems to other planets. If you build a Mars colony, and ship enough seeds and embryos there, you have prevented the extinction event, even if you couldn't do anything about the meteor impact.

Several of the concepts in this comment are very amusing to me :) Thanks

But what does it matter? The only reason biodiversity is important is because it creates a better environment for all life on the planet, including us. There's no cosmic benefit to life existing on Earth, or at all. If humans weren't around to stop a meteor from wiping all life off the planet what would it matter?

There's no cosmic benefit to life existing on Earth, or at all.

Well, maybe and only if you take the position that all life and/or suffering are irrelevant on a cosmic scale.

If they are not irrelevant, then we can't know if there's any benefit to our continued existence.

Will lessons that we learn here on this planet one day be used to alleviate the suffering of other sentient beings on another? We don't know but if that happens, I would argue that it was a benefit of us having lived.

I don't care about whether the rest of the universe benefits from Earth life or not. Earth life benefits from Earth life. And I'm part of the Earth life complex.

So as a planet, we're going to construct durable spores and spray them out into the cosmos until that capability is destroyed. Then those spores will eventually contact other celestial bodies and activate as much Earth life as is possible in the environmental conditions there. That life will spread and evolve, possibly far enough to make its own durable spores in the future.

Thus, life will eventually spread to every available niche in the galaxy. We do not know whether Earth life originated on Earth or from some other planet's probe, and it really doesn't matter. We still have to build the ships and launch them, or the information amassed by the millions of years of evolving Earth life will be lost with the destruction of Earth.

That's nothing to the rest of the universe. But it's everything to us. My legacy as an individual organism is to reproduce fertile offspring. That's the biological imperative. If you never had grandchildren, you never really mattered to the current state of the planet. So what is that on a planet-wide scale? If you never build an offworld colony that will go on to build an offworld colony, nothing your planet did will ever matter.

Human consciousness is the most rare and important "thing" in the universe. We also invented "mattering." Thus, all things that matter, do so, because we're here.

Nihilism is not only unproductive, it feels bad too. Upgrade to utilitarianism with a strong personal/local bias. Or, if you're a nice guy, utilitarianism in general.

Just because it feels bad to you(doesn't feel bad to me), that doesn't have any effect on the validity of that perspective. Of course human consciousness is important to humans, as you pointed out. Did we invent "mattering"? I guess that depends on if you can actually invent an idea, and if there is intelligent life elsewhere. Utilitarianism might be more useful at the societal level, but that still doesn't have any bearing on whether or not an individual position of nihilism is wrong. It might be a good idea that people have views that are incorrect about the environment that result in more biodiversity(though I would guess that biodiversity has diminishing returns), yet not attributing a mystical value to nature can prevent us from wasting our time and resources because our judgment is clouded. There's nothing unproductive about that.

I don't like to silo my views in any particular "ism." I live my life the best I can and do what I can to help others simply for the mere fact that I am here to do so and I like it. But I have no delusions about my place in the universe. Unlike you I do not ascribe any specialness to us.

Exactly. Most concerns about the environment are really anthocentrism in digsuise.

Meteor strikes are only an issue for a subset of relatively large multicellular organisms. The odds of anything 'sterilizing' the earth in the next billion years is basically zero. Further if we die put there is a good chance for another intelegent life form to replace us before the earth becomes uninhabitable even if we wiped out all multicellular life.

A meteor strike is actually better than the uncontrolled thermal runaway we are experiencing. At least a meteor threw biomatter into LEO so it could reseed the planet after a cataclysm. We will be Venus in no time.

How overdramatic.

Considering that horseshoe crabs are older than dinosaurs, trees, and several large meteor impacts, I wager they will outlive us as well.

One thing not mentioned in the article is the impact horseshoe crab farming has had on the Red Knot. PBS made a really interesting documentary about it, I would highly recommend you check it out.


Is the impact positive or negative? It seems like farming the crabs would solve the problem.

The relevant limulus proteins can be expressed in vitro. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5302069/

It looks like (very much like insulin production in vitro) the proteins involved here are highly modified after translation. Some proteins are usable right after they are produced by the ribosome, some require extensive modification to be useful. It looks like Factor-C [1] needs substantial posttranslational by machinery that is not present to the organisms commonly used for industrial protein production. So not only do you have to produce the protein synthetically, but you also have to produce the modification machinery synthetically.

An additional challenge is that the readout is at the bottom of a signal-amplified cascade [2]. And that cascade magnifies any error you have at the top (which is where that finicky Factor-C lives). Older synthetic assays read-out straight from activation of that first signal from Factor-C. This paper tries to recreate a portion of the cascade before reading out a result. But that now means you not only need to produce the Factor-C, the machinery to ensure Factor-C is properly produced, but you also need at least a few of the downstream components as well. So now you have a multi-component synthetic system - with all the grinding through the search-space and tuning that comes from having to optimize a multi-component biological system in vitro.

That's a pretty complicated problem. The paper just came out less then two months ago, and concludes, "The present study supports the future production of recombinant reagents that do not require the use of natural resources". We're on the right track, but it seems this is actually a tricky problem.

[1] (Factor-C protein) http://www.uniprot.org/uniprot/P28175

[2] (Coagulation Cascade) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5302069/figure/...

- Christian Schafmeister spyroligomer effort (a dsl to design protein tools to craft proteins IIUC)

- Woods, Rondelez, Schabanel dna tiles computing (turing complete molecular computing)

We're not far from being able to leave nature alone .. let's help these guys.

could LAL not be created using recombinant DNA? We already produce insulin this way, and I can only assume that LAL is a protein. I'm guessing you couldn't use e. coli as the host though, given the protein's purpose.

By mimicing industry the study is working uphill. The more direct approach would be to bleed and study a captive population. Bleed some already captive aquarium crabs. Then you can see exactly what happens when you return them to thier home tanks. That should answer some fundimental mortality and movement questions in days, if not hours. (Good luck finding a legit aquarium willing to let its animals participate.)

They also focus too much on the bleeding. What matters is how many die from both the bleeding and the handling. The "control group" should be wild and uncaught animals.

One of the problems with your approach is that many industry groups have used "Well, this study doesn't exactly mimic field conditions, so it's not valid..." in the past.

That assumes that we are looking to answer the entire question. I'd babystep towards that by first answering some basics. I want to know how much blood you can take and how long before the animal fully recovers. That can be better done in an aquarium setting with animals who are well-observed before and after. If draining a quart out of each captive animal kills 30%, that is a huge red flag without the hassle of radio tagging.

I remember reading an interesting article about bleeding squirrels to study their relationship with snakes (through blood one can tell if they have every been bitten by a venomous snake). Squirrels don't have much blood. So the scientists determined that they needed a caged recovery period with free food/water, and a shot of antibiotics, before being returned. Maybe too these crabs.

Lots of people are saying this is absolutely awful but I really don't get it.

> There are currently no quotas on how many crabs one can bleed because biomedical laboratories drain only a third of the crab's blood, then put them back into the water, alive.

If it's just a needle insertion, why is this such a big deal? The crabs shouldn't be bleeding after, and I don't see why they would be very damaged.

It's saving human lives. I don't think it's ridiculous to say that human lives are worth more than some momentary discomfort for crabs.

> I don't think it's ridiculous to say that human lives are worth more than some momentary discomfort for crabs.

Well: says the human.

You're right, people would never accept a regime where humans were drained of some of their blood in order to give other humans medical treatment with that blood.

> You're right, people would never accept a regime where humans were drained of some of their blood in order to give other humans medical treatment with that blood.

Yes, that'd be due to the fact that we see humans as equals, and the same is not true for humans and horseshoe crabs.

Well, it's OK if it's voluntary. But that gets murky for prisoners, who arguably can't freely decline.

Even setting aside statistics about various communicable diseases, prejudice would make use of prisoner blood a tenuous thing.

(I mean beliefs about prisoners being "bad" or "tainted" or whatever and people not wanting to receive their blood)

Few whole-blood transfusions occur in a setting where the patient can inquire in detail as to provenance.

Of course. That doesn't mean people wouldn't react to news about blood being collected in prisons.

Obviously. Are you really going argue that humans aren't worth more than crabs? Would you genuinely let your own family members suffer a preventable disease because you didn't want to injure a crab?

It's an interesting philosophical question, I think. You can apply to all sorts of different scenarios - say milking a cow.

We seem to be a species that likes to destroy entire environments and extinguish other species. We can always say, "but it was for our well-being".

Where do you draw the line, then? Some people live a vegan lifestyle (I don't), some will not wear fur, or like to buy products that are tested on animals - or other products that are mass produced by wiping out entire forests for a mono crop.

To further the philosophical debate, what if you apply the same emotional attachment you have on a loved one, to the animal? Would you harvest an organ from your family dog, if it meant your brother had a 50% chance of living? What if the dog had a 50% chance of surviving the operation to remove the organ? What if those chances were greater or less?

It's not "injure a crab" though.

Well, yes. Whose side are you on, anyway?

>momentary discomfort for crabs.

I agree that the benefit for humans is there, but it's often times a bit more than than just 'momentary discomfort' for the crab[0]

[0]: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10236244.2011.642...

Just for the tl;dr:

"Overall mortalities of bled horseshoe crabs were 17.8% (male = 18.75%; female = 17.2%), while mortalities of unbled crabs were 3.5%."

So it appears it indeed affects the crabs.

Its not "just" a needle insertion. There's no measurement of how much blood is taken from each crab, so there's no way to know how much damage is done on an individual basis. Imagine any other animal bled this way (https://www.thedodo.com/horseshoe-crabs-blood-tests-15310140...) and then "released" with claims of no harm done.

I did field work to study horseshoe crabs' near-shore behavior as part of my master's work. Fortunately we weren't bleeding them.

> If it's just a needle insertion, why is this such a big deal?

The article talks about how there's a bit of evidence to suggest that it may be a big deal, but that we really don't understand these animals so we're not really sure.

In the article it says they don't know exactly how many survive. Their original estimate was 15% died, but now think its closer to 30%. They also suggest that many have their reproduction impaired as well.


Your comment would have been just as informative if you eliminated or softened the first sentence.

From the guidelines, which serve to improve the civility of news.yc significantly: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

Please don't insinuate that someone hasn't read an article. "Did you even read the article? It mentions that" can be shortened to "The article mentions that."

Interesting article. Never heard any of this before.

I am ever so slightly skeptical.

I wouldn't be surprised if this while article was a fabrication created as some social experiment to test was people will believe. "We bleed 1/3 of the blood out of HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of horseshoe crabs then put them back in the wild... and you have never heard about it or seen it happen."

This article just sets off my radar is a particular "April Fool's!" kind of way. Can't put my finger on it.

Just wanted to say I have heard of this going back a few years. Skepticism is good but I didn't think there was anything overt in the article that raised red flags. Let's please not brush this off. There are tons of niche markets and industries and practices that you don't hear about. Anyone who has worked at a large company knows just how many hidden markets there are for all sorts of random shit. You just have to pay attention.

Take take take, don't give back. The earth isn't concerned with our human antics - it just responds in kind. We are bringing our own demise

> There are currently no quotas on how many crabs one can bleed because biomedical laboratories drain only a third of the crab's blood, then put them back into the water, alive. But no one really knows what happens to the crabs once they're slipped back into the sea. Do they survive? Are they ever the same?

Seems like it'd be easy enough to figure out if they are surviving or not, and seems like we could make adjustments to how much blood is drained based on the weight of the crab if we are killing them (or drain more blood so we kill fewer of them). How hard is it to glue an RFID tag on each one and dump them into a football field sized enclosure with a net wall around it?

Or maybe we release them into a nutrient rich tank full of their favorite food before we release them back into the wild? The equivalent of giving them a juice box after a blood draw?

Now... as for cruelty... yup, it's pretty barbaric sounding. I don't know how to weight this against human suffering they are helping to avert. I'm certain that if we were smaller than them, they just eat us and not think twice about it. Nice we have evolved to the point where we care about other types of life, isn't it? No clue how to measure human vs crab life, but I have to think that human life is a bit more valuable -- at least to other humans.

Presumably this blood draining procedure has gone through a medical ethics review?

> Presumably this blood draining procedure has gone through a medical ethics review?

There's no IRB because it's not funded research, just harvesting resources from animals.

When it comes to farming, there are no federal laws governing treatment of farmed animals, and most states exempt farmed animals from anti-cruelty laws. I doubt this would actually be categorized as farming, so there's likely no regulations around it.

F'ed up if you ask me. Imagine that being done to you by an alien species.

I have to agree with you.

Funny you should say "alien" - I watched "Under The Skin" recently, and then read excerpts from the book. Without spoiling it, the fate of human (males) in the book is far, far worse than in the film. (Search "vodsel processing" if you want to find out more).

Finally made me become vegetarian.

>When one of their victims writes "mercy" in the dirt in front of their pursuers, Isserley pretends to not speak English, hoping to keep hidden the extent of their language capabilities.

LOL, how is that comparable at all...

The closest thing would be chimps or dolphins and we don't eat either.

It's directly comparable, because all the aliens apart from Isserley believe that the humans have no language. Just like we believe that pigs, cows etc. have no language. But they do communicate with each other, don't they? So... it's directly comparable.

Only Isserley speaks English because she's been trained to do so.

So it's directly comparable.

We actively search for animal languages, and some do have a bit. I suspect that the concept of "mercy" would not be too far away from something some animals could muster up.


I'm still not going vegetarian though.

How is this anywhere close to the same as Alien species using humans? We differentiate treatment by intelligence of species for a good reason. We allow courts to deal with the subtleties of what is considered cruel and unusual punishment for humans as well from this rational perspective, allowing certain degrees depending on context.

I'm against whales and dolphins being kept in small area confinement. But I could hardly care about a crab being bled.

The only concern is on the survivability of the species and the effect on the greater ecosystem.

This is very rational and I don't see anything morally wrong with it. Nor do the vast majority of other scientists. Many of whom know much more about the species than I do.

The end result is we have a unique way to test for bacteria in a variety of applications that at most save lives, or at a minimum vastly improve the quality.

> Their distinctive blue blood is used to detect dangerous Gram-negative bacteria such as E. coli in injectable drugs such as insulin, implantable medical devices such as knee replacements, and hospital instruments such as scalpels and IVs.

We differentiate treatment by intelligence of species for a good reason

No we don't. We keep dogs, we* kill pigs and eat them.

*) 'We' meaning a generalised 'you'. I don't.

There's a great book called Homodeus they goes in depth about this for a chapter

Basically it's come down to humans deciding the fate of so many animals. We keep our cows and pigs in very narrow places and just enough systems for their survival but no regard for their emotional needs.

Because we are the dominant spicies we act according to our selfish interests. A smarter intelligent spices will probably do the same. If we somehow end up being useful for them, our fate might be the same as chickens, pigs and cows.

Yes, of course. I have extremely strong preference for a world where other humans will cause suffering and/or death of non-human life, if necessary, to cure me of a disease or improve my quality of life. Therefore, I support such measures to help any other humans, hoping that they would do the same for me.

It's self preservation, plain and simple. Non-human life is useful and worthwhile only insofar as it improves human life. As it happens, that includes, some would say luckily, trying to preserve a whole lot of lifeforms because we don't yet know whether they will be needed in the future.

I can't find any reason to consider this immoral or wrong in any way. I think it's beyond morality - merely an inevitable side-effect of existence.

Out of honest curiosity: What is your take on human life, then? A sittuation, let's say, where I cause you suffering in order to improve the quality of my life? Or vice versa?

I consider my utility roughly equal to that of close friends and family and will try to trade it favorably, such as spending 30 minutes to save them an hour. This is applicable to suffering as well.

With strangers, the expected return would have to be better, probably by a factor of ten or so.

One of the problems with this approach is that estimating expected utility gains (especially other people's) is hard.

And of course you get the weird edge cases with people (think serial killers) deriving pleasure from hurting other people, so you have to use some kind of objective measure that applies at least to most of the population, rather than just trusting the other person that "it really does it for them".

If it's a question of the level of intelligence of the sentient being be exploited in relation to the perpetrating species, precisely at what point would it be ok for a sufficiently intellectually superior alien species to exploit humans for their benefit?

The metric shouldn't be intelligence, but ability to suffer (which intelligence affects).

At least kill the f'kin things if you are gonna drain them of their blood. Seems like its just a poor excuse to say 'we didnt kill them..they are just fine! *drops crab back into water with half of its blood supply'

Based on what I read, these crabs are basically given a death sentence. I'd rather them be killed and harvested than bloodsucked tortured and thrown back into a predator ecosystem where they are too delirious and pretty much get butchered by whatever's out there.

That's a fair concern. This is why studying it is important. The scientists made some assumptions that the blood would regenerate and they would likely be fine. So agreed it's good they did this and they should find a way to do it more humanely, if possible.

> The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which sets global standards for species extinction, created a horseshoe crab subcommittee in 2012 to monitor the issue. The group decided last year that the American horseshoe crab is "vulnerable" to extinction—a higher level of danger compared to the last Red List assessment in 1996.

An artificial replacement might be the only long term solution. Or mass breeding, if it is indeed so expensive.

> And then there's the pure damn necessity. While several companies have come up with synthetic alternatives for detecting the presence of endotoxins in vaccines, medicine, and medical instruments, LAL is still the only test that has received FDA approval.

It isn't a death sentence: the overwhelming majority survive, and even go through the process again. If they killed them outright the species would go extinct. Of those two options, this is the environmentally friendly one.

However I wonder at what point we're affecting their ability to mate, reproduce, etc..

While reading the article I was wondering, would things be better if they only bled the male horseshoe crabs? In mammals you theoretically need fewer healthy males than females to successfully produce the next generation. However, since horseshoe crabs fertilize the eggs once they have been laid, I'm not sure whether the same population dynamic is at play.

Did you read the article? The overwhelming majority die when released back into the ocean after being bloodsucked.

Did you read it?

> And evidence is accumulating that the death rate of bled horseshoe crabs is much higher (more like 29 percent versus 15 percent)

You do understand that a majority means more than 50% right? So 29 percent is not a majority, and certainly not an overwhelming majority

while you're at math, one thing to note is that if the same crab is caught 4 times, with a 29% chance of dying each time, then the chances that they are still alive is (1-0.29)^4 which is about 25%. And the chance that they are dead is 75%.

Granted I don't know how often crabs are re-caught, or if they would have the same chance of dying each time.

Seems like they should require the industry to mark crabs that have been caught with something that would last long enough to allow them to regenerate their blood supply.

But even if we assume that if they survive they regenerate 100% so they're at the level as though they had never been caught, still, repeating the same 29% risk of dying four times results in an overall 75% chance of dying. (As calculated above.) If you don't want the population to deplete over time you have to make sure they are repopulating faster than this. (Assuming you accept the deaths to begin with.)

It's a fair concern, but if I'd bet it's not an issue. We used to kill millions of these things every year in the 20th century for fertilizer. Even if we killed every single one we harvested for blood we're talking half a million a year. The horseshoe crab survived decades of much worse. Of course, it's definitely something we should keep an eye on, just in case.

It is not known for sure what the mortality rate is after draining them, but the worst estimate seems to be 30%, so not at all a death sentence

Those photos of the crabs being lined up and bled reminded me of something out of The Matrix.

It's very sick and deranged. I am surprised people here are defending it. We can admit that the medical boon is considered worth it to much of society but why can't we also admit this is extremely fucked up? I suppose people don't like to vilify the society in which they dwell even if it is with truth.

Can horseshoe crabs actually feel pain? I thought their nervious systems were too simple for that, ergo there's practically no ethical concerns with doing whatever you want to them, as long as it doesn't lead to genocide.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14131514 and marked it off-topic.

Pain might be one consideration for an ethical argument against the status quo, but there are plenty of others:

* Environmental - Are we diminishing the horseshoe crab population in a way that'll adversely affect the environment?

* Sustainability - Will our current methods be able to supply indefinitely increasing demand for horseshoe crab blood?

* Practicality - Are we using a natural resource as a way to avoid a more responsible or practical engineered solution (compare: whale oil)?

I don't claim a satisfactory answer to any of these (I just don't know enough about horseshoe crabs), but a "yes" for any of them represents a plausible ethical concern.

Probably they can. Pain detection evolved so organisms can avoid damaging their bodies. There's no reason to think that doesn't apply to crabs.

i think this is the most logical answer. i would imagine pain appeared very early in a common ancestor as its effect on survival is absolutely immense

It's still being debated (for what that's worth) but there are numerous studies that indicate that they do [1].

I don't think we have any workable theory at this point that would explain how exactly (biological) neural networks produce pain, or predict how complex they need to be to do so.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pain_in_crustaceans

Not sure about the question of pain, but most IACUCs (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees) at universities and elsewhere don't care what you do to invertebrates.

It's an odd line to draw, but that's apparently the line: whether or not there's a spine.

Humans can't feel pain if anaesthetized.

This is a dumbfuck ethical theory.

We come up with this risible excuse every time we want to do something awful: sport fishing, chicken slaughter, baby circumcision. "They're dumb / they can't feel pain."

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