One again here are the best prizes ever. This is what “intelligent” scientists do, and they are awarded. Here are the main facts, if you are interested (no joke) you can click on the link at the bottom of the page.
CHEMISTRY PRIZE — for inventing a chemical recipe to partially un-boil an egg.
PHYSICS PRIZE — for testing the biological principle that nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds).
LITERATURE PRIZE — for discovering that the word “huh?” (or its equivalent) seems to exist in every human language — and for not being quite sure why.
MANAGEMENT PRIZE — for discovering that many business leaders developed in childhood a fondness for risk-taking, when they experienced natural disasters (such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and wildfires) that — for them — had no dire personal consequences.
ECONOMICS PRIZE — To the Bangkok Metropolitan Police [THAILAND], for offering to pay policemen extra cash if the policemen refuse to take bribes.
MEDICINE PRIZE — for experiments to study the biomedical benefits or biomedical consequences of intense kissing (and other intimate, interpersonal activities).
MATHEMATICS PRIZE — for trying to use mathematical techniques to determine whether and how Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty, the Sharifian Emperor of Morocco, managed, during the years from 1697 through 1727, to father 888 children.
BIOLOGY PRIZE — for observing that when you attach a weighted stick to the rear end of a chicken, the chicken then walks in a manner similar to that in which dinosaurs are thought to have walked.
DIAGNOSTIC MEDICINE PRIZE — for determining that acute appendicitis can be accurately diagnosed by the amount of pain evident when the patient is driven over speed bumps.
PHYSIOLOGY and ENTOMOLOGY PRIZE — Awarded jointly to two individuals: Justin Schmidt for painstakingly creating the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which rates the relative pain people feel when stung by various insects; and to Michael L. Smith [USA, UK, THE NETHERLANDS], for carefully arranging for honey bees to sting him repeatedly on 25 different locations on his body, to learn which locations are the least painful (the skull, middle toe tip, and upper arm). and which are the most painful (the nostril, upper lip, and penis shaft)
You’re not feeling well so you visit the doctor. It turns out that you need some sort of intravenous medicine, so he or she hooks up an IV and starts the meds flowing. Three days later, you’re feeling horrible again, so you return to the doctor. The original problem is gone, but you’ve developed some sort of bacterial infection in your bloodstream in the process, and now require treatment for that. It turns out that the IV drug was tainted with some sort of bacteria.
Medical science wants to avoid such outcomes and in most cases succeeds to doing so — the situation described above is both hypothetical and rare. And for that, you can thank the horseshoe crab.
Bacteria such as E. coli release something called bacterial endotoxins — that’s the stuff which ends up causing infections if it gets into our bodies. Whenever the pharmaceutical industry creates a new drug or implanted device, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that the new product be tested for endotoxins, as we don’t want our medicines making us sicker. Fail the test and you can’t market your product in the United States.
Testing for endotoxins, though, was slow and expensive until about fifty years ago. In the late 1960s, that changed, when researchers discovered that a substance called limulus amebocyte lysate, or LAL, made it easy to find the microscopic bad stuff floating within these newly developed medical solutions. As a PBS report summarizes, LAL “immediately binds and clots around fungi, viruses, and bacterial endotoxins,” allowing for easy recognition of contamination. And in 1970 or 1971, the FDA approved LAL use as a test for such endotoxins. With this new, better test now acceptable, the speed and expense of such testing plummeted shortly thereafter.
So how do we get LAL? Just like this:
The blue stuff in those really large glass jars is blood — the blood from the horseshoe crab situated on top of the bottle. Horseshoe crab blood contains LAL (uniquely at that) and LAL is relatively easily extracted from their blood. We just have to collect the blood, first, which is exactly what’s happening above. The LAL manufacturers literally tap into the crab’s vascular system, taking as much as 30% of the animal’s blood in any one blood-draining session.
LAL manufacturers require about 250,000 horseshoe crabs to provide a year’s supply of LAL. To protect the crab population (and to keep costs down — a dead crab isn’t worth much), manufacturers claim to take blood from a crab only once a year and have only about a 3% horseshoe crab mortality rate. (That number is controversial, though; independent studies put the mortality rate at 15% or even 30%.) The value gained from LAL is widely-regarded as enormous, which is likely why the global market for horseshoe crab blood is roughly $50 million annually, with the blue liquid selling for north of $50,000 per gallon.
The biggest concern going forward? The value of horseshoe crab blood has led to some overfishing, and while populations globally are still extremely plentiful, they’ve noticeably dipped in recent years. A few areas (South Carolina, New Jersey and Delaware most notably) have issued restrictions on their harvesting.
Horseshoe crab contains hemocyanin (as opposed to hemoglobin, which us humans have) to carry oxygen through its body. That doesn’t help us when it comes to finding endotoxins, but it does explain why horseshoe crab blood is blue. Hemocyanin uses copper to deliver oxygen throughout the crab’s body. The deoxygenated copper molecules are colorless, but oxygenated ones are blue. (Oh, and if you were ever told that deoxygenated human blood is blue until it hits the air, well, that’s just false.)