Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Hybrid Plankton Potential Super Food Stock

This particular plankton appears made to order to do the job touted for algae in converting CO2 into a viable animal feedstock.  Obviously it is early days here but the nutrient spectrum and the possibility of producing a high quality food product at a low cost makes it very appealing.

They are even toying with claims as the final solution to feeding a huge population.

Whatever it develops into it appears to be important.

'Hybrid' plankton could solve world's food problem, global warming

Food and supplements made of euglena powder and sold by Euglena Co. (Mainichi)

A type of microscopic plankton, which has features of both animals and plants, as well as containing nearly all essential nutrients for human beings, and absorbs carbon dioxide, may be the key to solving some of the world's most toughest problems, scientists say.

The single-celled organism, known among scientists as "euglena," is only 0.05 millimeters in length, but contains 59 different nutrients, including minerals, vitamins and nine types of amino acids vital for human beings.

According to Mitsuru Izumo, 31, president of Euglena Co., a venture company dedicated to euglena research and its development, one gram of the plankton's powder -- made of some 1 billion euglena -- contains the same amount of iron found in 50 grams of spinach and the same amount of folic acid found in 50 grams of saury. It also produces docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an essential component of the human brain, which is usually found in blueback fish.

Euglena's richness in nutrients, a lack of an acute taste and smell, makes it a potential food component. In fact, Euglena Co., founded through a collaboration between the University of Tokyo and private businesses, began producing and selling euglena-based food supplements in 2007. However, contrary to the company's expectations, the products were not well accepted, especially among women. With its name in Japanese meaning "green bug," the image most people had of the organism was often associated with larva, says Izumo.

Things changed for the company, however, in 2009 when it partnered with the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) and produced euglena cookies, which quickly topped the ranking of the museum's bestselling goods. Since then, the company has received offers for the manufacturing of 25 processed foods, including hamburgers, noodles and Japanese liquor.

Euglena Co. is currently manufacturing food supplements that may serve as a panacea for malnutrition in developing countries.

"With the world's continuously increasing population, it is quite probable that one day euglena may become the last food resource that is able to sustain human beings," says Yoshihisa Nakano, professor emeritus at Osaka Prefecture University, who has succeeded in breeding a mouse solely on euglena.

According to Nakano, euglena is a plant-animal "hybrid" organism that accumulates nutrients through photosynthesis, while at the same time moves like an animal by twisting itself. It can also absorb carbon dioxide and effectively produce oxygen.

"If we place an euglena-cultivating tank on Mars, where carbon dioxide and dry ice exist together, after 100 years we would have the same environment as Earth because euglena can feed itself and produce oxygen. I often share this dream with my students," says Nakano.

While this may indeed seem like a dream to many, euglena has in fact already been used in aerospace research. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began observing the plankton in the 1970s, as part of its research on potential self-sufficiency in space. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), in partnership with Osaka Prefecture University, has already confirmed that euglena can divide and multiply even in zero-gravity environments.

In addition to being abundant in nutrients and being potentially useful in space, scientists also see a bright future for euglena-led environmental protection efforts. Since 2010, Sumitomo Joint Electric Power Co. has launched a series of exhaust gas-filtration experiments at a thermal power station in Ehime Prefecture. Contrary to other plants, which easily die due to the high carbon dioxide concentration found in exhaust gas, euglena's growth was accelerated even more than in regular atmospheric conditions, proving scientists' theories that it effectively absorbs carbon dioxide.

"We will perform the same experiment in a larger tank and hope to put our results into practice as soon as possible," a Sumitomo Joint Electric Power Co. official commented.
If euglena is applied in the feeding of livestock and the production of biofuel, it can create a new type of effective ecosystem, scientists say.

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