Quite possibly, the gentle horseshoe crab has swum ashore during the full and new moons of May and June to spawn for 445 million years.
Horseshoe crab-like creatures were here when the dinosaurs appeared, and they were here after the dinosaurs disappeared. They survived ancient global warming and ice ages alike. And then people happened.
“Over a hundred years ago, they were ground up and put on land as a fertilizer,” says Eric Hallerman, professor of fish conservation at Virginia Tech. In places like the Delaware Bay, 90 percent of the crab population was wiped out, and not a great many people cried about it.
Then in the '70s, people discovered that they need the crabs for something much more valuable.
“Every human on the face of the earth, if they’ve ever been given an injectable medicine, has been touched by LAL,” says Allen Bergenson with biomedical firm Lonza.
LAL – Limulus Amebocyte Lysate – is a test for bacterial contamination made from the crab’s blood (usually made without killing the crabs). Lonza is one of four companies that manufacture it. The test is used throughout the medical industry to ensure medical instruments and materials don’t cause fever or complications when introduced to the blood.
It’s among the reasons that, gradually, people and governments started to care about the crab.
“We’ve created laws that make sure the animals are returned to sea, that require them to be harvested by hand,” says John Dubczak, general manager with biomed company Charles River Endosafe in South Carolina. In that state the industry lobbied to ban fishermen from harvesting hundreds of thousands of crabs to use as bait for sea snails and eels.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission intervened in 1998 to relieve pressure on the crab from the bait industry.
Now, the biomedical industry is competing within itself to see who can use the fewest crabs.
Charles River has developed a highly sensitive test that only uses one twentieth the normal amount of horseshoe crab’s blood. Lonza has a synthetic version that doesn’t use any crab’s blood. The firms argue, sometimes bitterly, over which product is better. The synthetic version doesn’t have the same regulatory standing as the crab-based version (it’s not currently listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia, an official list of sanctioned drugs and uses), and for now that has dissuaded the pharmaceutical industry from embracing it.
Whatever the result, the competition raises a different way of thinking about nature.
“Instead of nature for nature’s sake, nature for people’s sake,” explains Janet Ranganathan, Vice President for Science and Research at the World Resources Institute. She’s referring to a concept called “Ecosystem Services.” When people realize the value in nature, and then pay to maintain it, everyone wins.
In many cases, this approach has saved entire ecosystems.
“In the '80s, water quality was degrading in NYC because of development in the Catskill and Delaware watershed,” she says. Instead of building a $6 billion water filtration plant the city spent a fraction of that ($1.5 billion) just protecting the forests that purified water by paying landowners to maintain and restore it.
It doesn’t always work, of course. Upstream agriculture on the Mississippi causes dead zones downstream that negatively affect fishermen, Ranganathan gives as an example. “You have one industry trumping another,” and polluters don’t have to pay for the disruption in services that nature provides.
But things appear to be working out somewhat for the horseshoe crabs. Overall, the pressure on their population appears sustainable, according to the ASMFC, though there are troubling declines numbers in certain regions.
In some cases, making money off of nature can be a good way to protect it.
Somali extremists wielding automatic weapons attacked a small Kenyan coastal town for hours on Monday, assaulting the police station, setting two hotels on fire and spraying bullets into the street.
The A380 was supposed to change aviation as we know it. The plane can hold more than 500 people -- Airports around the world even remodeled to accommodate the huge jet.
But apart from Emirates Airline, the double decker jet hasn’t sold well.
Robert Mann, a former airline executive, says the reality is there are only a few airlines and airports in the world where the A380 makes sense.
“The A380 is a niche airplane," he says. “Anybody who had a need for them, or could conceive a need for them has ordered them.”
That’s left an opening for Boeing.
Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at the Teal Group Corporation, says most airlines are interested in long haul, twin engine jets that can seat between 250 and 400 people.
“That’s where the action’s act,” he says.
Aboulafia says that fits nicely with what Boeing offers with the Dreamliner and its redesigned 777X. He says it “puts Airbus at a competitive disadvantage.”
Airbus is trying to answer Boeing with a slightly smaller jet: the redesigned A350XWB. Though, the company is having difficulty getting the planes off the ground -- Last week, Emirates Airline canceled its order for 70 of those planes.
Here is the latest menu item on my "Get Smarter in 90 Minutes A Week" media diet: The other night I watched How to Survive a Plague, a film about ACT UP and its activism to fight AIDS. I am not sure why I chose to view the documentary from 2012 now; maybe it is that I just came off a seven-day bike ride in California to raise money and awareness in the fight against HIV/AIDS, during which I had a number of conversations during the ride about the progress against the disease, and the many remaining challenges.
What I did not realize until after the fact is that I was watching the film on the 25th anniversary of one of the film's key moments. This week in 1989, activists were able to shove their way into the International AIDS Conference in Montreal. As the film shows, the insurgents were there to make much more than just a ruckus in support of speeding up the testing of new treatments for the disease. Members of ACT UP had the smarts and focus to study and decode the Food and Drug and Administration's system for drug approval. The activists forced their way into that meeting with more than banners, placards, and slogans: They had drafted a smart action plan that would radically change the fight against AIDS.
Activists had come up with the now-famed National AIDS Treatment Agenda: 15-pages long and printed with a yellow cover. This agenda proposed — demanded, really — a series of changes to the drug approval process to make clinical trials of new medicines for AIDS, and the opportunistic infections that are associated with the disease, better meet the needs of patients. It was the product of some very smart systems analysis from people without a formal background in this area of medical research and drug regulation. These activists applied intellectual rigor to figure out how the federal system worked and what it might need to get drugs to desperate people more quickly.
As the film shows, thoughtful medical statisticians got a copy of the agenda that day 25 years ago and took seriously many of the recommendations. Eventually, activists, patients, researchers at the National Institutes of Health, members of Congress, and officials at the FDA would come more closely into line in the fight against the disease.
One of the activists who figured out the AIDS drug process was broken and contributed to new thinking on ways to fix it is Mark Harrington, who won a MacArthur "Genius" fellowship in 1997 for his work in this area. Although Harrington doesn’t have an MBA, he was acting on a lesson from business: He understood the power of a deep systems analysis to diagnose something big that was broken.
Another star of the doc I watched last night is still working hard in the fight against the disease. Peter Staley wrote a column just the other day calling for a new set of changes to America's HIV prevention efforts.
On the 25th anniversary of the original agenda, he points out that 50,000 people a year still get infected every year — and that figure is just for the United States.
There's a gold rush on in health information technology. Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are betting on companies that aim to help consumers, insurers and providers save money.