It all began with the humble horseshoe crab. In the 1960s, a scientist working for the summer at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole discovered that horseshoe crab blood clotted when exposed to marine bacteria. About a decade later, Stanley Watson, working down the street at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, figured out a way of using this bizarre characteristic to test for disease-causing pathogens in medicines. In 1974 he started Associates of Cape Cod — based in East Falmouth — to harvest the blood and create tests for pharmaceutical companies.
Today, horseshoe crab blood is big business. One quart of the light-blue liquid costs $15,000, and the industry generates an estimated $50 million annually in the United States. Associates of Cape Cod remains one of the leaders in this field, and currently employs 150 people worldwide, with most working on the Cape.