You many know agar-agar as a delicious jelly-like dessert. But what do you know about agar’s history and applications in the lab? AsianScientist (Jan. 26, 2016) – Walk into any microbiology lab, and you will likely be greeted by towering stacks of agar plates, each one home to a menagerie of microorganisms. Agar, a jelly-like substance derived from seaweed species of the genus Gelidium, is perhaps microbiology’s most important laboratory reagent, long used as a solid substrate to culture and isolate bacteria. Now follow your nose into a home kitchen in Asia, and chances are that you will find agar there as well. Apparently invented by happy accident in 17th century Japan when a forgetful innkeeper left seaweed extract out in the cold, it 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 seawee...