Omega 3 oils are known to benefit humans in many ways from muscle growth and repair to having healthy hair. Usually found in the tissues of marine fish, researchers in the UK have now found a way to engineer oilseed plants to produce it therefore cutting down the need to use marine fish, making fish oil oil without the need for fish has always been a key goal of Rothamstead Research led by Johnathan Napier and Olga Sayanova.
Demand for omega-3 fish oil is gradually on the rise and with pressure on fish stocks already great,
this new found research could not have come at a better time, with salmon providing the best source overall of omega-3, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These have been proven to help improve heart health and aid neurodevelopment in children, the oils can also be found in the livers of other fish such as cod and extracted.
Napier’s team genetically engineered oilseed crop false flax (Camelina Sativa) to produce EPA and DHA.
They chose false flax as it already produces A-Linolenic Acid (ALA) oil in large quantities, a precursor to EPA and DHA. Omega-3 oils are produced naturally by tiny photosynthetic phytoplankton in the sea such as diatoms and unicellular algae, these algae are in turn eaten by small fish who are then consumed by bigger fish such as salmon etc. leading to the build up of oils, the smaller fish are also sometimes caught to feed farmed fish as well.
The researchers firstly identified the genes responsible for EPA and DHA production in phytoplankton and then inserted varying quantities of it into false flax genome.
“In the first instance, we inserted five genes and on average 24% of the oil content in the plant seed was EPA. Then we introduced seven more genes and in that case an average 8% of the total oil content in the seed of the plant was DHA and 11% EPA. We had instances that these percentages were 14% and 12% as well. The average accumulation of these oils in the transgenic Camelina plants is comparable to those found in fish oil but Camelina makes none of these naturally,” she says.
Napier also states that the engineered plants are a sustainable, terrestrial source of Omega-3 oils which could have benefits both for human health and the marine environment long term as well making the larger fish population healthier at sea, this could mean a great reduction in the destruction of the population of salmon and a greater production of fish oils without the need for a huge supply of fish.
Please feel free to take a look at my other articles for diets regarding healthy eating and the integration of omega-3 oils and feel free to comment below.
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