Lato

Lato is a lovely seaweed that lives in sandy seagrass meadows 1. These are habitats where Dugong may also be found, which makes seagrass an amazing place to live! One of the many things that make Lato interesting, is that their leaves or fronds are full of tiny green balls. And they’re edible and delicious!

Lato and other seaweed are “algae”, or simple organisms that make their food with the help of the sun. And most of them live in water 2. Another fascinating thing about Lato, is that each individual Lato is made up of one entire cell! In fact it is part of a group of seaweed that are considered some of the largest single-celled organisms in the world! 3 The scientific name of Lato is Caulerpa lentillifera.

Lato or Caulerpa lentillifera is made up of one single cell! Compare that to a human cell like a red blood cell that is 8 millionths of an entire meter, or 8 micrometers (μm). ERRATUM: “Dividing 1m into 8M pieces does not result to 8μm-length apiece, that is, 1m/8×10⁶ = 0.125μm ≠ 8μm. The right conversion should be: 1m/8μm = 1×10⁶μm/8μm = 125,000 pieces.” Special thanks to Benrie Buco who clarified this on Facebook!

One seaweed you’re probably most familiar with is nori, which is used to wrap sushi. But Lato also has a long history of being cultivated and eaten in the Philippines; and Japan too! Learn more about how Lato has been used and prepared by people in the Philippines and the Pacific at Filipino Food Art.

As you can imagine, seaweed farming in the Philippine islands is big. Seaweed alone contributed more than a quarter of all fishery production in 2008. Around that time it was known to have supported around 100,000 farmers and traders, with Palawan and Southern Mindanao as the major producers 4. Unfortunately climate change continues to threaten seaweed, along with overharvesting of naturally-growing seaweed outside of seaweed farms 1.

We are still discovering the wonders and benefits of Lato and other seaweed in the Philippines. Without proper governance, community participation, and sustainable cultivation of our precious seaweed, we may lose the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of Lato. Both nutritionally, and ecologically.

Sources

  1. R. Dumilag, 2019. Edible Seaweeds Sold in the Local Public Markets in Tawi-Tawi, Philippines. Philippine Journal of Science. http://philjournalsci.dost.gov.ph/images/pdf/pjs_pdf/vol148no4/edible_seaweeds_sold_in_the_public_markets_.pdf
  2. A. Vidyasagar, 2016. What Are Algae? LiveScience.com. https://www.livescience.com/54979-what-are-algae.html
  3. A. Arimoto, 2019. A siphonous macroalgal genome suggests convergent functions of homeobox genes in algae and land plants. https://academic.oup.com/dnaresearch/article/26/2/183/5419551
  4. Fisheries Policy and Economics Division, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Department of Agriculture, 2010. Fisheries Commoditie Road Map: Seaweeds. https://www.bfar.da.gov.ph/files/img/photos/roadmapseaweeds_wdcorrction2008.pdf