The Future Envisioned by a Biotechnology Venture that Makes “Healthy People and Earth”euglena Co., Ltd
- The formidable challenge by a venture company launched by the University of Tokyo aiming to solve global issues, such as food and energy, through biotechnology including euglena.
Euglena has great untapped potential
Euglena (called Midorimushi in Japanese) is a microorganism that is about 0.05 mm in size. Its Japanese name Midorimushi includes the word “mushi,” which means ""insect"" but in fact euglena is not an insect. Rather, it is a type of algae just like seaweed and kelp). It proliferates through photosynthesis and it can move by changing forms of its cells, so it has the biological features of both plant and animal. Many of you may remember learning about it in a science class.
Euglena first appeared on earth over 500 million years ago. It was only first discovered by humanity around the 17th century. In the late 20th century, research on photosynthesis of euglena made progress, and in the 1990s applications in food and medical care started to attract attention in Japan. Euglena grows by absorbing light, water, and carbon dioxide, so they are viewed with hope that they will contribute to measures against global warming. It has also been discovered that euglena contains 59 types of nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and unsaturated fatty acids, so it has the potential to help solve the food crisis and nutrition problems facing the world.
Technological Development to Cultivate Large amount of Euglena Outdoors
euglena Co., Ltd. was established in 2005 as a biotechnology venture company launched by the University of Tokyo. The origins of euglena can be traced back to a visit to Bangladesh made by Mitsuru Izumo, the current president of the company, during his first year at the University of Tokyo. In Bangladesh, he witnessed the realities of poverty seen in the malnutrition of its people. Later, he learned about the great potential of euglena from a lower classmen in the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Tokyo, Kengo Suzuki (currentDirector and General Manager of R&D at euglena). This led to Izumo's decision to start a company spurred by his wish to solve food crisis with euglena. The company's name comes from the academic name of Midorimushi, i.e. euglena. euglena became the world's first company to develop a technology to cultivate large amounts of euglena outdoors, and their business operations revolve around five areas in food, fiber, fodder, fertilizer, and fuel, based on their euglena cultivation technology.
In terms of food, euglena has already developed various products using euglena powder cultivated on Ishigaki Island, Okinawa Prefecture (euglena produced in Ishigaki) as the basic ingredient. euglena sells supplements, beverages, cookies and other healthy foods using euglena to general consumers and, in recent years, they also entered the cosmetics market. They have stable revenues through the operation of an online store of their products, and they are working to improve the reputation of Midorimushi/euglena. In 2015, euglena received the Prime Minister's Award, the highest award of excellence, at the First Nippon Venture Awards hosted by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Biofuels produced from euglena will transform society
The company's challenge to create biofuels from euglena is attracting great attention. Oil extracted from euglena has qualities suitable for use in diesel and jet fuels. The company has been conducting joint research with universities and research institutions to develop base technology for producing euglena mutants, which produce more oil than normal euglena.
Petroleum oil poses the problem of releasing a large amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and thereby accelerating global warming. However, biofuels derived from euglena can theoretically create a cyclical ecosystem whereby euglena absorbs the released carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and once again turns it into fuel. Furthermore, they will not raise concerns of increasing food prices like biofuels derived from crops.
In the summer of 2017, euglena will begin construction of a biojet and diesel fuels manufacturing experimentation plant in the Keihin Waterfront Area, which will be the first of its kind in Japan, and the company aims for practical implementation of the fuels by 2020 after initial operation of the plant in the first half of 2019. Hopefully, in the near future, Japan will enter an age where its society can be maintained by domestic biofuels produced from algae including euglena, without relying on the imports of petroleum oil. DeuSEL® Project
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