Scientists create genetically modified plant as alternative to fish oils

A new seed oil plant is a source for omega-3 fats normally found in oily fish.

Scientists have created a genetically-modified seed oil plant that could act as an alternative source to dwindling fish stocks for omega-3 fats.

Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are a common source for omega-3 fats – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – which are important for normal health and development.

They are known to be beneficial for joints, brain and heart health but the UK population consumes less than half the recommended amounts partly because not enough people like or eat oily fish.

Now a vegetable oil that contains EPA and DHA in similar amounts to fish oil has been developed by a team at Rothamsted Research and validated by the University of Southampton.

Their study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, shows no difference in the uptake of EPA and DHA among young and middle-aged people between the oil from the seed oil plant (Camelina sativa) or from fish oil.

Omega 3 oil
The oils are thought to provide benefits to health (Charlotte Ball/PA)

Professor Graham Burdge, from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Southampton, said: “These findings show that the oil from this transgenic plant is just as effective as fish oil as a source of EPA and DHA in the diet.

He continued: “This oil overcomes the negative effect on EPA and DHA intakes of consuming a diet that excludes animal products and the concerns about taste and contamination.”

Professor Johnathan Napier, of Rothamsted Research, said: “Contrary to the popular saying, there are not plenty more fish in the sea.

“But production of our modified seed oil can be scaled up to meet demand in a sustainable, environmentally-friendly manner, which is not possible with marine or farmed fish.”

He added: “Excitingly, if the current regulations for growing genetically modified plants were changed, possibly as a consequence of Britain leaving the EU, this crop would be a unique opportunity for British agriculture to acquire a global advantage that could have a positive impact on the UK economy and the health of the world population.”

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