Seaweed shortage hits UK cosmetics, medicine industries

By on
Seaweed farmers in Japan
Seaweed farmers prepare seaweed for shipment in their newly built workplace in Minamisanriku town, in Miyagi prefecture, northeastern Japan February 23, 2012. Traditionally farming has been carried out in family units, however after the tsunami the farmers of Minamisanriku created a guild to combine their businesses. They decided to collaborate since there was no way to restart their business individually. Picture taken February 23, 2012. Reuters/Yuriko Nakao

Seaweed has long been considered as a vital ingredient for research in a number of industries – from medicines to cosmetics – in the UK. A sudden shortage of the red algae seaweed has, therefore, impacted important research in the country’s top laboratories.

Red algae seaweed produces high-quality agar, which is used to cultivate micro-organisms in Petri dishes. Seaweed is, in fact, considered a wonder ingredient for many important products, including superfood, biofuel, face creams and medicines. With seaweed shortage hitting supplies, top laboratories in the UK may soon end up rationing the use of seaweed.

UK customers have been warned by Thermo Fisher Scientific, a supplier of laboratory equipment and consumables, that it needs to ration supplies of agar. The company has cited global shortages of red algae seaweed to justify the restrictions it has imposed on the use of agar, produced by the red algae seaweed.

In the absence of any viable alternatives to replicate the seaweed product, the company said it was left with no option but to cut down on the use of agar. “The key issues affecting supply are the quality and availability of the raw material,” says the company, according to the Independent.

The company says the yields of agar from last year’s harvest have been particularly low due to the variable quality of the seaweed, while consumption has been increasing. In the past four years alone, more than 29,000 products based on seaweed have been launched in Europe.

Recently, on Dec. 29, 2015, the Independent reported that ‘seaweed capsule’ could help diabetic patients live a needle-free life. According to the report, researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Technology and Science Graduate University (OIST) suggest using a hydrogel capsule made with alginate, a natural polymer extracted from seaweed, to avoid potential cell damage during freezing.


Join the Discussion