Euglena — the little single-celled organism that could save the world
Euglena, a simple, single-celled organism that grows in fresh water, trumpeted as a solution to food shortages, a potential replacement for fossil fuels and a way to reduce CO2 emissions, has been making headlines lately in Japan. Stock in Euglena Co., a company founded at Tokyo University in 2005, has soared 10-fold this year and the announcement made last month by Osaka University in collaboration with Euglena Co. that a film made from a carbohydrate found in euglena called paramylon is effective in healing wounds, is bound to further boost the huge buzz around this rapidly expanding bio-tech company.
Euglena, which are also known in Japanese as midorimushi, are 1mm long thin organisms that give water a greenish hue when they multiply in ponds. Though often classified as algae, they are in fact a curious mix of plant and animal, able to both photosynthesize like a plant and consume food like an animal. Incredibly, these slightly fishy-tasting oddities are teaming with almost all the nutrients humans need to stay alive, including vitamins C and B2, calcium and iron. It’s not hard to see why Mitsuru Izumo, co-founder of Euglena Co., saw its potential as an ingredient capable of solving the world’s hunger problems.
Euglena Co. has been mass cultivating the stuff since 2005 and euglena is now not only available to buy as a vitamin supplement, but has also been successfully marketed as an ingredient in confectionery.
Fancy a euglena cookie? There’s even green-tinted euglena ramen sold at a restaurant adjacent to the University of Tokyo campus. Just last month, euglena lattes and euglena smoothies were introduced to the market.
But wait . . . there’s more! Because the organism grows by photosynthesis, it’s capable of reducing CO2 emissions. Euglena Co. carried out a successful experiment in 2009 at a coal-powered thermal power plant in Okinawa. Passing waste emissions through a euglena culture tank, it was observed that the organism thrived, thus demonstrating “an effective and potential solution to the global warming,” according to the company’s website.
If that wasn’t enough, the company is now developing jet fuel, yes, jet fuel, made from euglena and plans to produce a steady supply by 2018, a promise that has boosted speculative trade in Euglena Co. on the stock market. Furthermore it was just announced that the company won the Japan-U.S. Innovation Awards’ Emerging Leader Award, pushing the profile of this high flying bio-tech company even higher.