Rothamsted Research has applied to Defra to conduct a field trial of Camelina plants that have been genetically modified to produce omega-3 oils that may provide health, environmental and economic benefits.
There is an open public consultation on this application which is available on the Government (Defra) website.
Consumption of omega-3 oils, specifically long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3 LC-PUFAs), through the consumption of oily fish, e.g. salmon and mackerel, has been linked with improved cardiovascular health and cognitive development. (FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on the Risks and Benefits of Fish Consumption 2011). The primary dietary sources of these fatty acids are marine fish either wild stocks or farmed fish (aquaculture). Fish, like humans, do not produce these oils but rather they accumulate them through the consumption of other marine organisms, e.g. algae, or through fishmeal and fish oil in farmed fish. In fact during 2012 around 47% of all fish directly consumed by humans worldwide was produced by fish farming (known as aquaculture), with this figure set to rise in the next few years.
Around 80 percent of all fish oil taken from the sea is consumed by the aquaculture sector which, as a whole provides 206 000 tonne of EPA+DHA, but at the same time consumes a total of 210 000 tonnes; i.e., in practice providing the same amount as it consumes. This rapidly expanding modern and progressive industry is therefore seeking new Omega-3 LC-PUFAs sources to ensure its production practices remain sustainable and nurture the essential aquatic food web (FAO GLOBEFISH).
Scientists at Rothamsted Research, who receive strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, have developed Camelina plants that accumulate Omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) in their seeds and therefore can provide a novel method of making a terrestrial source of this essential oil utilising existing farming practice and machinery. They have successfully developed a Camelina plant with a high content of these omega-3 oils in the right profile in the laboratory/glasshouse and reason for this application to Defra is to evaluate the performance of this trait in the field.
The proposed experiment is publically funded by the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) who are the main funder of biological/food research in the UK and will form part of the BBSRC publicly funded programme of work, ‘Seeds for nutrition and health’ that we are carrying out at Rothamsted.
GM is just one of a variety of techniques we use at Rothamsted Research to address the serious challenges we face to secure an environmentally sustainable supply of food. The GM trial will be less than 1% of our experiments in the field this year.
Update on GM trial application (14/R8/01) 21 Feb 2014
The independent Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) reviewed today (21 February 2014) Rothamsted’s Research application (14/R8/01) to Defra for consent to perform a deliberate release of genetically modified Camelina plants for research and development purposes. ACRE reviewed the application and discussed whether sufficient information is provided in the application for thorough risk assessment to take place. ACRE will provide a recommendation to the secretary of state after the completion of the public consultation carried out by Defra. Defra invite any person to make representations relating to any risks of damage being caused to the environment by the release. Any comments should be made to Defra directly by 21 March 2014 stating the application reference number 14/R8/01. Further details can be found at Defra’s website https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/genetically-modified-organisms-rothamsted-research-14r801
The minutes of this meeting will become available on the Defra website.
ACRE will make their recommendation to Defra who may or may not then grant consent to conduct an experimental field trial (with specific conditions if appropriate). The Secretary of State will consider any representations made to him relating to any risks of damage to the environment posed by the release of the genetically modified organisms within a period that he shall specify in accordance with the Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release) Regulations 2002.
Consultation on the Risks and Benefits of Fish Consumption. Rome, 25–29 January 2010. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Report. No. 978. Rome, FAO. 2011. 50p. http://www.fao.org/docrep/015/ba0136e/ba0136e00.htm
Flock, M.R., Harris, W.S., Kris-Etherton, P.M. (2013) Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids: time to establish a dietary reference intake.Nutrition Reviews Vol.71 (10): 692-707
Ruiz-Lopez, N., Haslam, R.P., Napier, J.A., Sayanova, O. (2013). Successful high-level accumulation of fish oil omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in a transgenic oilseed crop. The Plant Journal Vol. 77 (2): 198-208