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Successful UK trial for GM fish oil plants

Scientists at Rothamsted Research have just announced the successful first year results of field-scale trial of Camelina oilseed plants, genetically engineered to make omega-3 fish oils in their seeds.

July 8, 2015

Scientists at Rothamsted Research have just announced the first year results of field-scale trial of Camelina oilseed plants, genetically engineered to make omega-3 fish oils in their seeds.

Although some types of omega-3 fats are available from other sources in the human diet such as flax seeds, the nutritionally-beneficial long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3 LC-PUFA) eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are only available from marine sources.
As the production of fish through aquaculture increases so does the need to find alternative sources of omega-3 fish oils. Rothamsted\'s new data - which demonstrate an important proof of concept that a crop plant can be engineered to synthesise these beneficial fatty acids in seeds - provide hope for sustainable land-based sources of omega-3 fish oils, thereby releasing pressure from the oceans.

Dr Olga Sayanova, the senior Rothamsted Researcher who developed the GM Camelina plants, said: “We are delighted with the results of our first year field trial. Finding a land-based source of feedstocks containing omega-3 fish oils has long been an urgent priority for truly sustainable aquaculture. Our results give hope that oilseed crops grown on land can contribute to improving the sustainability of the fish farming industry and the marine environment in the future.\"

Rothamsted scientists had already successfully engineered Camelina sativa plants to produce non-native EPA and DHA, by introducing a set of seven synthetic genes based on the DNA sequences found in photosynthetic marine organisms. Although previous experiments in glasshouses had given positive indications for the performance of this trait, the current ongoing trial has demonstrated the stability of the trait and the ability of the GM Camelina plants to synthesise useful quantities of fish oils without any negative effects on yield.

Professor Johnathan Napier, leading the GM Camelina programme at Rothamsted Research, said: “The omega-3 fish oil trait that we have developed is probably the most complex example of plant genetic engineering to be tested in the field. This is a globally-significant proof of concept and a landmark moment in the effort to develop truly sustainable sources of feed for fish farms.”

The field trial and the associated laboratory analyses are funded by the government-supported Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

The open-source paper, published in Metabolic Engineering Communications, can be downloaded here.

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