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Horseshoe Crab: focus for DBT’s attention

The Indian horseshoe crab — an important marine species for biomedical research — is facing danger of extinction.

The significance for the species lies in the fact that a clotting enzyme — the lysate has been discovered in the amoebocytes of the blood of the horseshoe crab, which clots and forms a firm opaque gel in no time, when exposed to minute amount of endotoxins or bacterial pyrogens. The lysate is at present commonly used in pharmaceutical industries.

Artificial insemination, incubation of fertilized eggs and larvae and release of the larvae into the sea
Artificial insemination, incubation of fertilized eggs and larvae and release of the larvae into the sea

Taking into consideration its importance as a biological resource and its vulnerability, the Department of Biotechnology has initiated a new programme on application of modern aquaculture technology through restocking of wild stock by well-organized sea-ranching practices that will certainly help in restoring depleting population of the horseshoe crab in India. For the first time, application of effective artificial insemination technique and sea-ranching practices will help in enhancement of the wild stock of the horseshoe crabs in India.

These benthic animals prefer calm sea or an estuary with muddy sandy bottom for their normal biological activities. Most of the biogenic activities of the horseshoe crab occur in the open ocean at a deeper zone. They specifically migrate regularly towards the shore for the purpose of breeding.

The distribution pattern of the horseshoe crab is patchy and they possess highly specialized methods for detecting suitable habitats for reproduction and dispersal. No concerted effort has so far has been made to protect valuable biodiversity and spawning grounds of the Indian horseshoe crab.

Oceans are treasure troves to many such important organisms. India has 2.5 million sq. km EEZ with 7600 km long coastline. The rich biodiversity of the Indian Ocean has immense opportunities to use them for the benefit of mankind. Marine organisms represent vast scarcely tapped resources for medicine, aquaculture, fisheries, industry (composite materials, biopolymers and enzymes for industry, biosensors and delivery systems), research tools and environmental applications (including several techniques to restore, protect and manage marine ecosystems).

However, degradation and destruction of the ecosystems of these important marine animals by natural and uncontrolled anthropogenic activities resulted in mass depletion of their populations in India and DBT’s attempts to save the horseshoe crab is an attempt to reverse the trend.