Rothamsted Research

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Rothamsted Research is conducting a field-based experiment of Camelina plants that have been genetically modified to produce omega-3 oils that may provide health, environmental and societal benefits..

The open public consultation on this application which was available on the Government (Defra) website is now complete

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.

Questions and Answers

More Questions and Answers about the trial application can be found here:

Further reading

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.

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

Rothamsted Research is granted permission by Defra to carry out a field trial with GM Camelina plants

The trial will test whether GM Camelina sativa plants are able to make significant quantities of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) in the seed of the plant under field conditions

Rothamsted Research is granted permission by Defra to carry out a field trial with GM Camelina plants that produce omega-3 fish oils in their seeds.