Scientists Genetically Engineer Omega-3 Rich Seeds as an Alternative to Wild Fish Oils
Scientists in the UK are working on a new crop of seeds rich with essential Omega-3 fatty acids that could be a sustainable alternative to getting them from wild salmon. Omega-3s are vital for our health and while you can get shorter-chain fatty acids from nuts and seeds, the long-chain Omega-3 forms are only found in a marine environment, ie salmon fish oil. But with fish stocks dwindling, the ocean becoming more polluted and an increase in population, we need a more viable source of this essential nutrient. With a little help from genetic engineering, the scientists have made a form of flax that contains the critical fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for normal metabolism in humans and since we do not produce them in our bodies we have to take them in through food or supplements. Short-chain fatty acids come from plants like seeds and nuts, but the long-chain ones (EPA and DHA) only come from the water and that means we need fish. The fish don’t produce it either though, in fact they have to eat fatty-acid rich algae and then store it, and then we get the Omega-3s from their oil by eating fish or taking supplements. The wild and farm-raised fish alone aren’t enough to support our growing population, so researchers have been looking elsewhere to grow it.
Johnathan Napier, associate director at Rothamsted Research in the UK, has been heading up a team to look at novel seeds that can be altered to contain the essential DHA and EPA fatty acids. They’ve modified the seeds from the Camelina sativa plant (also known as false flax) using genes from microalgae. So far test results show that the seeds have up to 14 percent DHA and 12 percent EPA, which shows that it could be a tertiary alternative to these important dietary nutrients.
So far though, the seeds aren’t fit for human consumption and probably won’t be for some time. Right now, the seed crop is being used as a food supplement for farm-raised fish as an alternative to the algae. In this way the researchers are hoping to further test out their crop and improve the modifications before humans will get a hold of it.
Via BBC News
Images ©Rothamsted Research
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