The transcriptome of Euglena gracilis reveals unexpected metabolic capabilities for carbohydrate and natural product biochemistry.

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Euglena gracilis is a highly complex alga belonging to the green plant line that shows characteristics of both plants and animals, while in evolutionary terms it is most closely related to the protozoan parasites Trypanosoma and Leishmania. This well-studied organism has long been known as a rich source of vitamins A, C and E, as well as amino acids that are essential for the human diet. Here we present de novo transcriptome sequencing and preliminary analysis, providing a basis for the molecular and functional genomics studies that will be required to direct metabolic engineering efforts aimed at enhancing the quality and quantity of high value products from E. gracilis. The transcriptome contains over 30000 protein-encoding genes, supporting metabolic pathways for lipids, amino acids, carbohydrates and vitamins, along with capabilities for polyketide and non-ribosomal peptide biosynthesis. The metabolic and environmental robustness of Euglena is supported by a substantial capacity for responding to biotic and abiotic stress: it has the capacity to deploy three separate pathways for vitamin C (ascorbate) production, as well as producing vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) and, in addition to glutathione, the redox-active thiols nor-trypanothione and ovothiol.