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The Price of Agar

Because of a seaweed shortage, the price of the common lab reagent agar has sharply increased, Nature News reports. The wholesale price of agar is some $35 to $45 per kilogram, about triple what it was before the shortage.

"There's not enough seaweed for everyone, so basically we are now reducing our production," says Pedro Sanchez, the deputy managing director of Industrias Roko, which processes seaweed to make agar.

The shortage, Nature News adds, is due to new trade regulations put in place by Morocco, where much of the world's seaweed is harvested to produce agar, because of concerns of overharvesting. In the 2000s, Nature News reports that Morocco harvested about 14,000 tons of seaweed a year, but in 2010, the legal harvest limit was cut to 6,000 tons and foreign exports were limited to 1,200 tons. These limits, though, were only started to be enforced last year.

Some researchers are already feeling the pinch. After Thermo Fisher suspended some agar sales, Adam Roberts, a microbiologist at University College London who depends on it to study antimicrobial compounds in soil bacteria, was able to find another supplier of raw agar, but he tells Nature News that his lab may have to ration it and give precedence to certain experiments over others. "It would be a bloody nightmare," he says.

"If it gets more serious and hard to come by, I don't know what we'll do," Roberts adds.

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