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Project Summary

Start date:
1 January 2003
Project Leader:

Omega-3 fish oils, or more precisely, omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids such as EPA and DHA, are proven to be health-beneficial, reducing our risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and other metabolic diseases such as obesity and type-2 diabetes. These pathologies are now recognised as a global pandemic which threatens not only the health of billions, but also as an ever-increasing burden on our public health systems. Although omega-3 fish oils are accredited as being crucial for correct human nutrition, the wild fish stocks which provide them are at the maximum levels of managed sustainability. More worryingly, current world fish stocks are not sufficient to provide sufficient nutrition for our planet’s present population, let alone what it will be in 2050.


Our unique solution

In an effort to address this problem, Professor Johnathan Napier has embarked on an ambitious programme of work to produce genetically modified plants with the capacity to make these health-beneficial omega-3 fish oils. By transferring genes from the marine microbes which are responsible for the synthesis of EPA and DHA in the aquatic environments, it was possible to engineer plants to do something that they cannot normally do – make omega-3 fish oils. Initial work in model systems was then transferred to Camelina sativa (a relative of oilseed rape), allowing studies in a bona fide crop species. These included GM field trials, in which the accumulation of EPA and DHA in seed oil was shown to be a stable trait, and also animal feeding studies to determine the efficacy of our novel, plant-based source of EPA and DHA. All of these studies confirm the promise and utility of this terrestrial source of omega-3 fish oils. 

Next steps

As outlined above, there is a great need and moral imperative to make these novel oils widely available to end users. Therefore, the next significant challenge is to move this body of work from a research phase to a development & commercialisation mode.  This has a number of distinct stages, including ensuring freedom to operate, event selection and germplasm optimisation but the primary objective is entry into a national regulatory approval process to allow the wide-scale cultivation of GM Camelina accumulating omega-3 fish oils. Other important activities will include engagement with the entire agricultural production chain and also bulk end-users such aquafeed companies.  And prior to commencement of formal deregulation, a number of preparatory steps will be required, such as multi-location field trials and detailed analysis of seed oil composition. Currently, the logical geographical region for these activities is N. America, though other options will be explored. 

Vision of success

The ultimate successful outcome from this Flagship will be the regulatory approval of GM omega-3 Camelina, with this crop being grown at significant scale and strong end-user uptake. A number important steps along the road to this need to be achieved, including securing external investment and successful agricultural scale-up. In the long term, we would hope to see the bulk volume of 1m MT of fish oils that are harvested from seas matched by a similar amount produced on land by our GM Camelina.

Affliated Publications

1. Betancor MB, Sprague M, Montero D, Usher S, Sayanova O, Campbell PJ, Napier JA, Caballero MJ, Izquierdo M, Tocher DR. (2016) Replacement of Marine Fish Oil with de novo Omega-3 Oils from Transgenic Camelina Sativa in Feeds for Gilthead Sea Bream (Sparus aurata L.). Lipids. 51(10):1171-91.

2. Park H, Weier S, Razvi F, Peña PA, Sims NA, Lowell J, Hungate C, Kissinger K, Key G, Fraser P, Napier JA, Cahoon EB, Clemente TE. (2017) Towards the development of a sustainable soya bean-based feedstock for aquaculture. Plant Biotechnol J. 15(2):227-236

3. Betancor MB, Sprague M, Sayanova O, Usher S, Metochis C, Campbell PJ, Napier JA, Tocher DR. (2016) Nutritional Evaluation of an EPA-DHA Oil from Transgenic Camelina Sativa in Feeds for Post-Smolt Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar  L.). PLoS One. 11(7):e0159934.

4. Napier JA, Usher S, Haslam RP, Ruiz-Lopez N, Sayanova O. (2016) Transgenic plants as a sustainable, terrestrial source of fish oils. Eur J Lipid Sci Technol. 117(9):1317-1324

5. Tejera N, Vauzour D, Betancor MB, Sayanova O, Usher S, Cochard M, Rigby N, Ruiz-Lopez N, Menoyo D, Tocher DR, Napier JA, Minihane AM. (2016) A Transgenic Camelina Sativa Seed Oil Effectively Replaces Fish Oil as a Dietary Source of Eicosapentaenoic Acid in Mice. J Nutr. 146(2):227-35.

6. Usher S, Haslam RP, Ruiz-Lopez N, Sayanova O, Napier JA. (2105) Field trial evaluation of the accumulation of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in transgenic Camelina Sativa: Making fish oil substitutes in plants. Metab Eng Commun. 2:93-98

7. Betancor MB, Sprague M, Sayanova O, Usher S, Campbell PJ, Napier JA, Caballero MJ, Tocher DR (2015) Evaluation of a high-EPA oil from transgenic Camelina Sativa in feeds for Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar  L.): Effects on tissue fatty acid composition, histology and gene expression. Aquaculture 444:1-12.

8. Ruiz-Lopez N, Haslam RP, Usher S, Napier JA, Sayanova O (2015) An alternative pathway for the effective production of the omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturates EPA and ETA in transgenic oilseeds. Plant Biotechnol J. 13(9):1264-75

9. Betancor MB, Sprague M, Usher S, Sayanova O, Campbell PJ, Napier JA, Tocher DR (2015) A nutritionally-enhanced oil from transgenic Camelina Sativa effectively replaces fish oil as a source of eicosapentaenoic acid for fish. Sci Rep. 5.8104

10. Napier JA, Haslam RP, Beaudoin F, Cahoon EB (2014) Understanding and manipulating plant lipid composition: Metabolic engineering leads the way. Curr. Opin. Plant. Biol    19:68-75     

11. Ruiz-Lopez N, Haslam RP, Napier JA, Sayanova O (2014) Successful high-level accumulation of fish oil omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in a transgenic oilseed crop. Plant J. 77(2):198-208      

12. Ruiz-López N, Haslam RP, Venegas-Calerón M, Li T, Bauer J, Napier JA, Sayanova O (2012) Enhancing the accumulation of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana via iterative metabolic engineering and genetic crossing.  Transgenic Res. 21(6):1233-43      

13. Haslam RP, Ruiz-Lopez N, Eastmond P, Moloney M, Sayanova O, Napier JA (2013) The modification of plant oil composition via metabolic engineering--better nutrition by design. Plant Biotechnol J. 11(2):157-68      

14. Ruiz-Lopez N, Haslam RP, Usher S, Napier JA, Sayanova O (2013) Reconstitution of EPA and DHA Biosynthesis in Arabidopsis: Iterative metabolic engineering for the synthesis of n-3 LC-PUFAs in transgenic plants. Metabolic Engineering. 17C:30-41


Project Leader

Prof. Johnathan Napier

Omega-3 Camelina Development

Team Members

Dr Lihua Han

Synthetic Biologist and Transgenic Plant Specialist

Dr Olga Sayanova

Molecular Biologist Emeritus


University of Stirling 

Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim