Watch a lobster’s heart beat!

Basic diagram of the neurosecretory system of the American lobster, Homarus americanus. Edited from Skiebe 2001.
Basic diagram of the neurosecretory system of the American lobster, Homarus americanus. Edited from Skiebe 2001.

Right now I am working on a research project investigating changing hormone levels in the lobster. I use quantitative mass spectrometry to assess hormone protein concentrations in hemolymph (blood) samples. Lobsters have what is known as a semi-open circulatory system. They do have arteries, but they also have areas where blood is just delivered openly in the body cavity. Thus, there are two approaches to taking a blood sample… you can use a needle and syringe to penetrate the soft tissue and take blood from an open cavity (like the tail). Or you can take a sample directly from an artery. The first approach is definitely easier, but hormones are released from a secretory organ attached to the heart so I want to make sure levels are consistent between the release point and typical area to do blood sampling. So I faced the challenge of needing to take samples directly from the main artery exiting the heart (the opthalmic artery). The obvious problem is lobsters have hard shells protecting this area. The upside is that lobsters are incredibly resilient!

So the solution: open heart surgery!

Using a drill, I removed a small section of the lobster shell, and then use micro-dissecting scissors to remove the epidermis.

A clear, penetrable membrane seals the body cavity of the lobster, but still allows blood to be taken as needed.
A clear, penetrable membrane seals the body cavity of the lobster, but still allows blood to be taken as needed.

In the video, you can see the heart (the white pouch) pumping blood. Then I sealed the opening with a penetrable membrane, and days later… this lobster is still living on and I can take blood samples directly from the main artery whenever I need. Hope you enjoy this video! Its not everyday you have a window to a beating heart!

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