Euglenoids: the next big thing?

Nirvan Marathe

The Euglena International Network (EIN) was an organisation set up as a worldwide collaboration with aims to propagate genetic research into Euglenoids. This constitutes a group of mainly freshwater protists, which possess a vast variety of characteristics which could be applied to biotechnological applications(1). However, the key word here is ‘could’, because at this point in time, largely due to a lack of relevant reference genomes, the research in this field has been stagnant like the water several euglenoids inhabit. This has the added consequence of a lack of tools being made to identify critical factors in euglenoid growth, metabolic pathway optimisation and regulation. The EIN is aiming to tackle these problems head-on, and has proposed a plan to tackle the genome sequencing of all known euglenoid species over the next decade or so(2).

So let’s go into more depth about euglenoids, specifically Euglena gracilis. This organism, a phototrophic protist, has emerged as the first model euglenoid. The species offers a source of metabolites with commercial value, including vitamins and amino acids, however the unravelling of the genome of this species is very complex, which has created a major bottleneck in its further exploration, which aims to be addressed by the EIN(1).

A potential application of E. gracilis is in biorefineries, where studies have found that the species can affectively yield useful molecules such as α-tocopherol (Vitamin E), paramylon as well as biogas (a renewable energy source)(3,4). A further application is in the remediation of wastewater with both industrial and municipal origins. The organism has the strikingly effective ability of accumulating and isolating heavy metals, which can otherwise go on to contaminate agricultural crops and aquatic life(5).

Future application of Euglenoids proposed by the EIN include the production of the first certified jet fuel blend derived from algae, using biodiesel refined from Euglena produced wax esters, and also in the production of vegan imitation ‘meats’ and Euglena flour(2,6).

It will be exciting to see whether all of these ideas proposed really do become the ‘next big thing’ or are a further addition to the pile of attempts at ‘revolutionising the future’…

By Nirvan Marathe

1. Krajčovič J, Matej Vesteg null, Schwartzbach SD. Euglenoid flagellates: a multifaceted biotechnology platform. J Biotechnol. 2015 May 20;202:135–45.

2. Ebenezer TE, Low RS, O’Neill EC, Huang I, DeSimone A, Farrow SC, et al. Euglena International Network (EIN): Driving euglenoid biotechnology for the benefit of a challenged world. Biology Open. 2022 Nov 22;11(11):bio059561.

3. Grimm P, Risse JM, Cholewa D, Müller JM, Beshay U, Friehs K, et al. Applicability of Euglena gracilis for biorefineries demonstrated by the production of α-tocopherol and paramylon followed by anaerobic digestion. J Biotechnol. 2015 Dec 10;215:72–9.

4. Gissibl A, Sun A, Care A, Nevalainen H, Sunna A. Bioproducts From Euglena gracilis: Synthesis and Applications. Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology [Internet].

2019 [cited 2022 Nov 26];7. Available from: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fbioe.2019.00108

5. Khatiwada B, Sunna A, Nevalainen H. Molecular tools and applications of Euglena gracilis: From biorefineries to bioremediation. Biotechnol Bioeng. 2020 Dec;117(12):3952–67.

6. Ancient nutrition: Why Noblegen thinks one-celled euglena is the ingredient of the future [Internet]. Food Dive. [cited 2022 Nov 26]. Available from: https://www.fooddive.com/news/ancient-nutrition-why-noblegen-thinks-one-celled-euglena-is-the-ingredient/572949/

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