Kendrapara, June 17 (LocalWire): Horseshoe crabs are in demand world-wide for their blood that is used for industrial endotoxin testing. These ancient aquatic animals are more closely related to scorpions and spiders than to crabs and descended from mud dwelling primitive arthropods that lived in the Precambrian seas, nearly 600 million years ago.
Slowly, the horseshoe crab evolved into its present shape and surprisingly there is no change even after a span of 350 million years.
Dinosaurs and many other late comers have become completely extinct but the humble horseshoe crab survived.
The fact that these can tide over all kinds of adverse situations arising in its estuarine and coastal shallow habitats is a case in study and the reason why they are commonly called ‘living fossils’.
The crabs are on the verge of extinction in countries like Japan, Indonesia and the US but in India, particularly along Odisha coast, it has a sizeable population.
Dr Anil Chatterji, a noted horseshoe crab researcher and former scientist of Biological Oceanography division of National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, said, ‘Not much information was available about these crabs till 1990.
Amrut Modi, managing director of Unichem Laboratories, Mumbai took an initiative and sought the help of National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, to explore the horseshoe crab population in India.’
NIO, Goa did a survey for almost a year to understand the migrating behavior of these crabs along the coast of Odisha.
The highest density was recorded at Balramgari, Chandipur of Balasore district and Hukitola, Eakakula and Agaranasi islands and beaches of Kendrapada district.
While the team was completing its survey, BijuPatnaik, who was the chief minister of the state then, took an interest in this unique and one of the oldest creatures useful for biomedical science.
He directed the fisheries minister, Suryanarayna Patra, to extend all help to the NIO scientists and provide all logistics to the team.
The NIO team, Goa also collaborated with state fisheries department in 1990 to conserve and research horseshoe crabs.
The present day research on horseshoe crab in India is on account of Biju Patnaik interest to conserve this marine species, he added.
Later NIO, Goa started developing several other important projects in Odisha with institute like National Center for Cell Science (NCCS), Pune and Agarkar Research Institute, Pune.
These projects were undertaken during 2000-2003 by NCCS, Pune and 2005-2010 by ARI, Pune.
Defence Research Development Organization (DRDO) further approved a project independently to NIO, Goa during 2005-2007.
During 2013 to 2017, another grant-in-aid project was approved by the board of research of Nuclear Science of Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) Mumbai.
Considering the importance of Indian horseshoe crab, the Centre’s department of biotechnology approved another project to NIO in collaboration with National Institute of Reproductive Research, Parel, Mumbai for the year 2016-18.
‘To restore the declining population of horseshoe crab, we got another project from the department of biotechnology in collaboration with Fakir Mohan University, Balasore, for the year 2017 till date,’ added Dr Chatterji.