Fascinating post on the history of agar; and now there is a shortage. "Apparently invented by happy accident in 17th century Japan when a forgetful innkeeper left seaweed extract out in the cold, [Agar] has been used for centuries as a thickener, and to make all manner of deliciously wobbly desserts.
In December, Nature News reported that agar supplies have been affected by a global shortage of Gelidium seaweed. Because it grows on rocky seabeds and requires turbulent water for a steady supply of nutrients and oxygen, Gelidium cannot be farmed.
Instead, it’s harvested by divers, or collected when washed ashore by the tide. But dwindling seaweed populations and overharvesting have led Morocco, currently the world’s largest Gelidium supplier, to restrict annual harvests and place quotas on foreign exports.
As a result, wholesale agar prices have nearly tripled to US$35-45 per kilogram—an all-time high. Thermo Fisher Scientific and Millipore Sigma, two major suppliers of laboratory reagents, have already stopped selling some agar products.
If the situation worsens, it’s likely that many microbiology labs will have to scale back on experiments. And they might not be the only ones affected. Agarose, a component of agar, is used to make gels for the separation of DNA and protein molecules—a basic technique for practically every lab."