By Flora Sengupta
As a high school student, migraine relievers like Ibuprofen, Excedrin and Advil have come to my rescue certain days. But have you ever wondered how your medications and vaccinations have become so promising and safe?
Unknown to many, the answer is found in one of the oldest living fossils – horseshoe crabs. It is also unfortunate that these precious sea creatures are at risk of endangerment.
This year, my human biology class and I had the opportunity to visit Molloy College’s Center for Environment Research and Coastal Oceans Monitoring (CERCOM) in West Sayville, L.I. Program director and professor of earth and environmental studies at Molloy College, John T. Tanacredi described CERCOM as an “experiential network that provides the foundation of science, education, and contributions to the global community.”
I was truly taken aback by the extensive research and monitoring performed at their own lab. Since 2002, the team has gathered data and raised questions regarding the ecosystem.
One of their current research projects is “Captive Breeding of Limulus Polyphemus for Restoration.” My class and I were introduced to a prehistoric-looking underwater creature called a horseshoe crab.
The Scientific Research Technical Assistant Kyle Maurelli explained to us the importance of these near-threatened crabs. The ancestors of horseshoe crabs date back 445 million years – long before the age of the dinosaurs. They are an integral part of the ecology of coastal communities as their eggs are the major food source for northward-migrating shorebirds. They are also extremely important to the biomedical industry because their unique, copper-based blue blood contains a substance called Limulus Amebocyte Lysate, or “LAL.”
My classmates and I were already fascinated by the underwater creature itself, but became increasingly more interested in this substance and the connection it had to pharmaceuticals. The compound, LAL, coagulates in the presence of small amounts of bacterial toxins and is utilized to test for sterility of medical equipment and virtually all injectable drugs. Anyone who has had an injection, vaccination, or surgery has benefited from horseshoe crabs!
As we learned more about horseshoe crabs, the more aware we became of the little things in life that we tend to dismiss or overlook. Personally, I never knew that an underwater creature would have such an enormous impact in my life.
I believe we must shed light upon the unseen influences in our lives. As a community, we have the power to bring awareness to the importance of horseshoe crabs.
By simply reading an article on National Wildlife Federation, you can educate yourself on the benefits of these sea creatures. By supporting organizations such as the The Wetlands Institute, you are contributing to and supporting the stewardship and conservation of Horseshoe Crab populations. By vocalizing your opinions about overharvesting and habitat degradation, you can make a difference even if that results in a 1 percent increase in the horseshoe species. One percent can turn into 100 percent if one person inspires and drives others by taking action.
This trip was enriching and eye-opening for me and my peers. As a woman in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, or S.T.E.M., Molloy College’s CERCOM was an experience that allowed me to expand my views on the various avenues of the scientific field.
Sengupta is a senior at St. Agnes Academic H.S., College Point.