Sore Throats and Horseshoe Crabs
We just finished learning about what chili peppers and tarantula spiders have in common -- now we learn that the ancient horseshoe crab can help diagnose human illness.
The further we look, the more connections we find. What does it all mean? Perhaps we should take Shakespeare's advice:
Do not infest your mind with beating on
The strangeness of this business.
NASA - Sore Throats and Horseshoe Crabs
Soon, astronauts onboard the ISS will test a high-tech medical device that uses primitive enzymes from horseshoe crabs to diagnose human illness.
Picture this: You're on a mission to Mars, halfway there from Earth, and you're not feeling well. Your throat hurts when you swallow, your forehead is hot. You don't want to get sick or infect your crewmates. Should you take an antibiotic? If so, which kind?
With a new biological laboratory on a chip being developed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, in partnership with outside researchers, you may be able to get the answer in as little as five minutes.
The mini-lab goes by the maxi-acronym LOCAD-PTS, which stands for Lab-On-a-Chip Application Development–Portable Test System. The latest version is a handheld device slated for launch this December aboard shuttle mission STS-116 for testing on the International Space Station. [....]
The high-tech device relies on four enzymes extracted from the blood cells of one of Earth's most ancient living creatures: the horseshoe crab. "The horseshoe crab, a species that has survived some 300 million years, has a very primitive but sensitive immune system," Wainwright continues. A single bacterium can be enough to trigger enzymes in the crab's immune system, which clot the blood to seal off a wound.
The enzymes' extraordinary sensitivity and rapid response makes them widely useful in medical research to test the effectiveness of drugs and devices. (Withdrawing a bit of blood annually from horseshoe crabs, which are then returned to the wild, does not injure the creatures, and so far there is no acceptable synthetic substitute.)
It is these horseshoe crab enzymes that allow LOCAD-PTS to be so small, sensitive, and fast. First, a tiny amount of enzyme is inserted into tube-like channels and dried. Introducing any liquid sample to be tested into the channels rehydrates the enzymes. If the sample includes bacteria, their toxins trigger the enzymes, which change the liquid's color—the degree of color change depending on the number of germs. [....]