Home > Highlighting JAPAN >Highlighting Japan September 2014>Venture Businesses: Shaping Japan’s Tomorrow

Highlighting JAPAN

previous Next

Venture Businesses: Shaping Japan’s Tomorrow

Green Philanthropy

How Euglena Can Solve the World’s Nutrition Problems

The abundant nutrients in a kind of algae known as Euglena have long received attention at universities and research institutes, especially in research on how to solve the global food crisis. In 2005, Tokyo-based euglena Co., Ltd. succeeded in cultivating Euglena outdoors on a large scale, and in the years since has become a leader among venture businesses achieving rapid growth.

"Up through high school, I wanted to work at the United Nations and do something useful for poor people," says euglena CEO Mitsuru Izumo. "Then I went to Bangladesh during the summer break after my first year of college and did an internship at the Grameen Bank, founded by Muhammad Yunus, who later received the Nobel Peace Prize. When I saw the poverty of Bangladesh and the emaciated people there, I decided to do something about the problem of poverty through food."

Discovered in the 1660s by the Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, Euglena is known in Japan as midorimushi. In addition to having both plant and animal properties, it contains fifty-nine different nutrients. Because Euglena is such a nutritious organism it has many predators, and has never proliferated beyond a certain level in nature—until recently.

"From the 1980s there was this idea that food shortages could be solved with Euglena, and quite a few places cultivate it indoors on a small scale," Izumo explains. "Using a special culture medium, we found a way to protect Euglena from microorganisms and other predators and culture it in large quantities outdoors, making a stable supply possible at low cost."
The company has two fields of business: using Euglena in powder form to make healthy foods and beverages such as food supplements, drinks and confectionery goods, and developing biofuels. In the health food field, many products containing Euglena powder, from confectionary goods to alcoholic drinks, are already sold in the market. In the biofuel field, biodiesel formulated in collaboration with Isuzu Motors has already found practical uses, while research with JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corporation and Hitachi, Ltd. is slated to bring "biojet" fuel to market by the time the 2020 Tokyo Olympics begin.

Japan has been an advanced country in the technology of fermentation and brewing for much of its history, Izumo notes. "And I believe that Japan should pass that knowhow along to the rest of the world. We will show the possibilities of culturing Euglena through microbial fermentation and using it in foodstuffs."

The company receives research funds from the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and its research on gene recombination related to Euglena was adopted in a program by the Japan Science and Technology Agency of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. The firm has also been chosen for one of twelve research projects representing Japan, and will receive funding from the total budget of 55 billion yen allocated through the Impulsing Paradigm Change through Disruptive Technologies program, which is sponsored by the Cabinet Office of the Government of Japan.

His company may be a rising star, but Izumo's philosophy has not veered from that of his student days. "Every day we distribute almost 2,500 'Euglena meals' to people in Bangladesh in the form of cookies, which totals nearly 600,000 meals per year," he says. "By 2030, my aim is to provide meals full of Euglena's nutrients to one million people and really do something for people suffering from hunger. I hope that eventually every country and the United Nations can use Euglena to solve the world's starvation problems."

It is that philanthropic urge—to make a society without poverty—that appears to be the driving force at the core of this company's success.

previous Next