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The Last Moments in Japan

The last day of visits dawned bright and early as we left the hostel for the Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation’s Yokohama Research and Development Centre at a quarter to seven, in an effort to dodge rush hour traffic. After arriving at Mitsubishi we were first introduced to the company by Toshiaki Yokoo, after which Wesley Browne held two lectures for us all. Unfortunately, a tour of the labs was not an option because of safety reasons.

The Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation is responsible for the realization of ‘kaiteki’ or social and environmental comfort. In practice, this means that they develop new catalysts, catalytic systems, coating and spinning procedures, (in)organic synthesis methodologies, enzymes, and, among many others, artificial photosynthetic systems. They do not do this alone. The Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation collaborates with a number of universities, other academic institutes, governments, and other corporations.

Following this introduction of the Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation, Wesley Browne accepted the invitation to hold two one-hour lectures. The first was about electrochemical switches and the dangers of assuming that employed spectroscopic methods do not affect the compound under investigation. The second lecture discussed the challenges in sustainable oxidation catalysis via homogeneous catalysts, anti-Markovnikov oxidation of alkenes with Manganese in particular. Both were very interesting lectures and spawned plenty quality discussion, in which both Mitsubishi staff and RUG students participated.

We concluded our time at Mitsubishi with a nice Bento box lunch, and proceeded towards Euglena. Ryota Sugimoto awaited our arrival for an introduction to the company and a lab tour.

Euglena is a small company dedicated to providing nutrient-rich food based on the micro algae that they named the company after. It was founded in 2005 by Izumo Mitsuru after a years-long search for a nutrient-rich plant to combat malnutrition in Bangladesh. They were the first to mass cultivate the Euglena microalgae, and are now developing the algae for five main applications: food, fiber, feed, fertilizer, and fuel.

 

Euglena is a suitable plant for the company for several reasons: it contains 54 unique species of nutrient (vitamins, amino acids, minerals, and more), has very relaxed environmental requirements when compared to other other foodstuffs , and is the only algae that produces paramylon. Paramylon absorbs fats and cholesterol and, in hypoxic environments, breaks these down to glucose. Glucose can then undergo glycolysis as normal. Lastly, euglena extract inhibits oil formation in human adipocyte stem cells. This can help combat obesity.
Euglena only has two true requirements for growth: the presence of carbon dioxide and water. This allows cultivation pools to exist everywhere there is space, though warm lands are highly preferable to cold ones. Most notably, this means it does not have to encroach on traditional farmland, instead being able to be grown in traditionally non-arable land such as deserts.

We concluded the introduction with a short video on biofuel production from euglena extract, then went on a tour through the three labs of Euglena.

The labs were neat and tidy, filled with familiar and unfamiliar (to me, at least) sights and equipment. The familiar sights included several fume hoods, autoclaves, rows of vials with culture samples (even if the specific culture wasn’t one I’d encountered before), and analytical equipment (specifically GC and HPLC machines). The unfamiliar sights focused around the culture breeding setup, which was essentially a series of closed vials with culture in water being fed carbon dioxide through the cap, and the fluorescence activated cell sorter used for screening euglena mutants rich in lipids.

 

In all, it was a short but informative and interesting time at Euglena. A solid finish to an excellent two weeks in Japan.


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