Does a microbe save the world?



Mitsuru Izumo founded Euglena Co., Ltd. in 2005 when he was 25 years old. While he was studying farm management at the University of Tokyo, he kept pondering if there wasn’t any foodstuff like "Senzu". This imaginary bean is featured in the popular comics "Dragon Ball". A single grain of the crop can help people get over starvation without eating for ten days and recover instantly even when they get injured. It was Senzu that cued Izumo to mass-produce euglena, a microbe, and market it as food. And the starvation he had seen in Bangladesh motivated him to quest for food like Senzu.


 2005年株式会社ユーグレナを設立した出雲充(いずも・ みつる)氏35歳は、東京大学在学中、農業経営学を学ぶかたわら「仙豆」のような食べ物がないか考え続けていた。仙豆とは人気漫画「ドラゴンボール」に登場する架空の豆。1粒食べるだけで10日間何も食べずに飢えをしのげ、また、どんなに身体が傷ついても瞬時に回復する魔法の食べ物として描かれている。出雲氏が微生物のミドリムシの大量培養に成功し、これを食材として売り出すヒントになったのが漫画に登場する仙豆だった。そして仙豆のような食べ物を追い求めるきっかけとなったのが、南アジアの国バングラデシュで目撃した飢餓であった。


What he witnessed in Bangladesh



Before he began his quest, he had firmly believed that so many people were suffering from starvation around the world and that only the United Nations could do away with their woe. For this reason, he entered the Humanities Course III of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tokyo where many former UN workers were students. He visited Bangladesh as a trainee in the summer when he was a first grader to have a firsthand look at UN activities. However, what he saw there was quite contrary to his expectation.




There was plenty of rice and wheat in Bangladesh. Nevertheless a lot of children were suffering from starvation. Or they were rather suffering from malnutrition. In other words, many Bangladeshi were seen to be getting enough calories from rice and wheat but being troubled by a lack of nutrients that keep them healthy.




From this experience, he began to think of devising a method whereby people can take nutrients contained in meat, vegetables and fruits instead of biscuit routinely sent to them by developed countries. That was how he arrived at euglena.




Returning from Bangladesh, Izumo transferred to the university’s Faculty of Agriculture in hopes of developing such a method. But he found no clues at all for a long time. One day, he asked a junior fellow of his club if he knew any food like Senzu. An unexpected reply came back. "Isn’t euglena closer to Senzu? It’s a creature between the animal and the plant.” That was the moment Izumo encountered euglena.



Success in mass cultivation of euglena



There are primarily two reasons why euglena and Senzu are closer to each other in quality. One is that as euglena is a creature between the animal and the plant, it contains abundant nourishment. Euglena has chlorophyll in its body that can create vegetable nutrients through photosynthesis. At the same time, it can move by itself, which means it can create animal nutrients as well. So, people can take in nutrients similar to the ones they get by eating meat and vegetables. Moreover, unlike vegetables, euglena has no cell membranes that contain nutrients, which means that its nutrients can be easily absorbed into the human body.




Another reason is that euglena can grow at various places. It can be cultivated in large quantities in a polluted pool. Its cultivation is possible not only at abandoned factory sites or desert but even on arsenic-tainted soil in Bangladesh. Thus, euglena nutrients can be supplied all over the world.




Captivated by the microbe’s potential to solve starvation across the world, Izumo launched his venture business. In those days, however, no one in the world had been successful in mass cultivation of euglena. His company had to endure a hard situation for a long time.




However, after repeated trials and errors, the company succeeded in mass production of euglena in December 2005 for the first time in the world. That meant Izumo took one step forward toward his dream of eliminating the global starvation. His firm won the first Japan Venture Business Grand Prize and Prime Minister’s Award for its feat. It cannot be said yet that euglena has been given a full play. But the day may come in the near future when euglena will really save the world.



(Written by: Hayato Murai. Translated by: Takaaki Araki)