EDUCATION: Limulus in the Limelight

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Science  17 Sep 2004:
Vol. 305, Issue 5691, pp. 1687
DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5691.1687a

The American horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) is a laboratory star. Its blue blood clumps in response to certain microbes, inspiring today's standard test for identifying bacterial contamination. Studies of the crab's compound eyes led to Nobel Prize-winning research on the neurophysiology of vision. To learn more about these creatures, which are actually closer kin to spiders than to true crabs, visit these sites.

A basic primer from the University of Delaware probes subjects such as the crab's evolution—the earliest fossil is about 500 million years old—and natural history. Every spring, for instance, droves of horseshoe crabs scuttle ashore along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts to mate and lay eggs. A similar site from the Delaware-based Ecological Research and Development Group highlights details of the crab's anatomy and development. It also supplies a hefty bibliography of horseshoe crab literature and features a gallery of art and photos. Both sites discuss threats to the crabs (Science, 21 May, p. 1113), such as beachfront development.

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