Crab Wars: A Tale of Horseshoe Crabs, Bioterrorism, and Human Health / Edition 1

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Surviving almost unmolested for 300 million years, the horseshoe crab is now the object of an intense legal and ethical struggle involving marine biologists, environmentalists, US government officials, biotechnologists, and international corporations. The source of this friction is the discovery 25 years ago that the blood of these ancient creatures serves as the basis for the most reliable test for the deadly and ubiquitous gram-negative bacteria. These bacteria are responsible for life-threatening diseases like menengitis, typhoid, E. coli, Legionnaire’s Disease and toxic shock syndrome. 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.

Since his youthful fascination with these ancient creatures, William Sargent has spent much of his life observing, studying, and collecting horseshoe crabs. As a result, he presents a thoroughly accessible insider’s guide to the discovery of the lysate test, the exploitation of the crabs 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“In this unusual alert to species depletion, Sargent's heartfelt concerns for the horseshoe crab illustrate the human side of scientific inquiry.”—KLIATT

"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

“[M]akes 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

"Sargent...has crafted a surprisingly engaging tale ... Crab Wars makes for a helpful — and entertaining — case study." —

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781584655312
  • Publisher: University Press of New England
  • Publication date: 2/28/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 1,491,280
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

WILLIAM SARGENT is a consultant for the NOVA Science Series and has written seven books about science and the environment, including A Year in the Notch: Exploring the Natural History of the White Mountains (UPNE, 2001) and Storm Surge: A Coastal Village Battles the Rising Atlantic (1995). 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.

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Table of Contents

A Day in the Life of a Hunter-Gatherer
Carl Shuster [July 14, 1953]
First Lessons [Boston Children's Hospital, 1956]
At an Ancient Orgy [June 21, 1957]
The Conversation [Woods Hole, 1962]
Bleeding the Crab [1969-1974]
Crabs and Ponies [Chinoteague Island, June 22, 1972]
"Flugate" [1976]
Confessions of a Horse Crab Farmer [Cape Cod, 1982]
A Garden Party [Charleston, South Carolina, 1985]
Fishing for Bait: The Conch and the Eel Fisheries [Delaware Bay, 1990-2000]
A Day at the Beach: Red Knots and Horseshoe Crabs [Reed's Beach, New Jersey, May 29, 1985]
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission [Washington, D.C., 1996-1999]
Jay Harrington vs. Bruce Babbitt [Pleasant Bay, 2000]
A Bizarre Incident [May 23, 2000]
The Decision [ John Joseph Moakley Federal Court House, Boston, Massachusetts, May 22, 2001] The Loophole [Falmouth, Massachusetts, June 2001]
Raw Lysate: A New Industry [Chincoteague, Virginia, July 30,2001]
Numbers, Numbers, Numbers [Delaware Bay, September 28, 2001]
Postscript [2005]

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2009

    The subtitle is accurate and descriptive

    I met the author in Ipswich, MA, which is his home. I was attending an Elderhostel program and he was one of the facilitators. Bill has written several books, but I chose to purchase this one because of the intriguing title. The story is fascinating and is a "good read". I purchased a second book as a Christmas gift for my son who lives in Oregon. He has a degree in environmental studies and also one in human physiology. "This is a book that combines your interests" was my message on the gift tag.

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