GM plants may provide abundant source of omega-3 fatty acids

August 9, 2017

A study published in Scientific Reports suggests that the commercial cultivation of a transgenic variety of Camelina sativa, one of Europe’s oldest oil seed crops, may be able to produce an abundant amount of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

The researchers from Rothamsted Research and the University of North Texas have genetically modified camelina with genes from marine microbes, resulting in a plant that can produce both EPA and DHA—two nutrients important for heart health. Additionally, the fatty acids from the transgenic camelina lack the contamination associated with some fish oils sourced from the ocean, such as that from heavy metals, dioxins, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

They have reproduced results showing that the transgenic plants can grow in the field, and the latest research records how a second year’s field trial of GM camelina in 2015 confirmed that finding. It also shows how the team was able to reduce the level of unnecessary omega-6 fatty acids in the transgenic seeds to match more closely the mix in marine fish oils.

Furthermore, the latest research highlights the previously unrecognized and huge untapped space in camelina seeds for accumulating fish oils. Currently, valuable EPA and DHA accumulate in only the radicle of the transgenic seed leaving most of the seed’s cotyledon untapped and empty of LC-PUFAs.

“It is very significant that we can tailor camelina oil to accumulate omega-3 fish oils and that this trait is stable in field-grown plants. Furthermore, our new and unexpected insights into fatty acid accumulation across the seed points toward further opportunities to optimize this,” said Johnathan Napier, leader of the camelina program at Rothamsted. “I am convinced that transgenic plants such as ours can help reduce the pressure on oceanic sources of fish oils, and this study brings that one step closer to reality.”