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“No organisms are more important to life as we know it than algae. In Slime, Ruth Kassinger gives this under-appreciated group its due.” —Elizabeth Kolbert
Say “algae” and most people think of pond scum. What they don’t know is that without algae, none of us would exist.
There are as many algae on Earth as stars in the universe, and they have been essential to life on our planet for eons. Algae created the Earth we know today, with its oxygen-rich atmosphere, abundant oceans, and coral reefs. Crude oil is made of dead algae, and algae are the ancestors of all plants. Today, seaweed production is a multi-billion dollar industry, with algae hard at work to make your sushi, chocolate milk, beer, paint, toothpaste, shampoo and so much more.
In Slime we’ll meet the algae innovators working toward a sustainable future: from seaweed farmers in South Korea, to scientists using it to clean the dead zones in our waterways, to the entrepreneurs fighting to bring algae fuel and plastics to market.
With a multitude of lively, surprising science and history, Ruth Kassinger takes readers on an around-the-world, behind-the-scenes, and into-the-kitchen tour. Whether you thought algae was just the gunk in your fish tank or you eat seaweed with your oatmeal, Slime will delight and amaze with its stories of the good, the bad, and the up-and-coming.
Gardening and botany writer Kassinger (A Garden of Marvels) mingles ecology and 3.7 billion years of Earth's history to explain the importance and ubiquity of algae, from the cyanobacteria, which first released oxygen into the atmosphere, to the invasive azolla, cherished by organic rice farmers. In chirpy prose chock-full of homespun metaphors "With pyrenoids, microalgae were cooking on a professional range instead of a hot plate" Kassinger turns an obscure subject into delightful reading. Some readers' tongues may twist on the likes of coccolithophores, but concise explanations make the going easy. As the book explains, algae were possibly what helped fuel early hominin brains and prompted humans to first migrate from Asia into North America along an algae-rich "kelp highway." Kassinger describes the possibility of replacing fossil fuels with algae-based fuels, the ecological threat posed by toxic algal blooms at sea, and the various locales to which her research took her, including an algae oil farm in Brazil, a seaweed research center in South Korea, and a test kitchen (from which she shares recipes, such as dulse and cheddar scones and Irish moss blancmange) in San Francisco. Even readers who never expected to enjoy a book about slime will find this an informative and charming primer to "the world's most powerful engines."