Sex, Drugs and Sea Slime


Ellen Prager

The University of Chicago Press, £9.50

Many people may buy this book on impulse having just read the title. It is indeed a treasure trove of facts, relating to the awe-inspiring but less familiar monsters and creatures of the deep. The prevalence of the use of mucous, the intriguing variety of reproduction mechanisms and inspiring use of chemical defences make this an entertaining read.

The book provides a rich description of some fascinating varieties of underwater life and how they are essential within ecosystems, as well as the range of anthropocentric values and uses that are attached to them.

Some surprising marine organisms are the inspiration for drug development and sources of medicinally beneficial chemicals. These include, among others, antimicrobials from hagfish and the green fluorescent protein in Aequorea victoria.

The importance of seafood in our diets is well known, yet the variety consumed by different cultures may raise an eyebrow – such as the slimy hagfish eaten in parts of Asia, or seahorses consumed in China. One chapter warns of the dangers of overexploitation within the last remaining "commons" and highlights the possible consequences.

The colour photographs illustrate the beautiful magnificence of only a small number of these creatures. The omission of an index is one minor criticism and although Prager does state that it is not an academic text, there is a substantial bibliography. Sex, Drugs and Sea Slime would be an ideal gift for anyone considering or starting a course in marine biology, but be careful how you phrase that!

Alex Waller CBiol MSB