Omega-3 research on genetically modified plants offers hope for a sustainable alternative to fish oil

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Omega-3 acids in oily fish – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – are important components of cell membranes that are needed for normal development and cell function.

Several advisory boards have made recommendations for EPA plus DHA intake in the 250 to 1000 mg / day range to promote optimal health. However, consumption still remains low due to the limited, often expensive and sometimes uncomfortable diet and supplement options.

In addition, the marine sources for EPA and DHA are decreasing in the face of increasing demand. Currently, marine springs can provide 0.2 million tons of EPA plus DHA. approx. 16% of the provisions required worldwide (Salem & Eggersdorfer 2015).

Despite increasing demands, most adults in the UK consume less than 50% of the amount of EPA plus DHA recommended for health maintenance.

A team of researchers from the Rothamsted Research Institute and the University of Southampton, funded by the Research Council for Biotechnology and Life Sciences (BBSRC) UK, is currently researching an oil made from the GM Camelina sativa plant (one of the oldest oilseeds in Europe) in order to test it for suitability the replacement of oily fish in the human diet.

This development would not only reduce the pressure on marine ship supplies, but also avoid the risk of consuming the heavy metals, dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) associated with the consumption of fish.

After identifying the potential for improving the plant’s seed oil composition about a decade ago, Rothamsted’s team grew and experimented with the genetically engineered version of camelina that makes EPA and DHA.

Recent studies by the team have shown that this oil is well tolerated by humans and contains the same levels of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA as fish oil (12% and 9.5%, respectively). Additionally, they found it to be as effective as fish oil in increasing blood and red blood cell levels in humans, suggesting that it may have the same health benefits.

Professor Johnathan Napier, director of the Omega-3 Camelina program at Rothamsted, who also led the research, told NutraIngredients, “When we have a land-based source of EPA and DHA, we no longer have to rely on marine crops for these important ones Provide fatty acids. Contribute to reducing pressure on fish stocks and the environment. .

“In addition, the power of agriculture means that far greater amounts of EPA and DHA can be produced than are currently being extracted from the oceans, ensuring optimal nutrition for all.” .

Project Leader Graham Burge, Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at the University of Southampton, adds: “These results are very exciting indeed – the potential opportunities for improving human nutrition and for UK agriculture are enormous.

“The pharmaceutical industry also has an increasing demand for highly purified EPA and DHA for the production of pharmaceutical products based on ethyl esters, which currently cause high production losses (90-95%) when these fatty acids are purified from fish oil (Kitessa et al. 2014). .

“There is also great potential in the nutritional supplement industry, although this delivery method would not have the greatest impact. First and foremost, we are working to bring the health benefits of this oil to the public. “

The BBSRC-funded team will next work with the Food Science Department at Reading University to develop options for adding the oil to everyday foods.

The study.

The blinded crossover study recently published in the British Journal of Nutrition included 31 healthy men and women (aged 20 to 74 years). Participants were randomized to consume 450 mg / d EPA þ DHA, either as CSO or FO, for eight weeks, followed by six weeks of washout, and then switched to consuming the other test oil.

Fasting venous blood samples were taken at the beginning and end of each supplementation period. The resulting data showed that consumption of the test oils significantly increased EPA and DHA levels in plasma TAG, phosphatidylcholine, and cholesteryl esters (P <0.05). In addition, there were no significant differences between test oils in the steps of EPA and DHA.

In addition, the consumption of oil increased the omega-3 index (Harris & Von Schacky 2004) by around 0.6 percentage points (West et al. 2020a).

However, the study was not designed to identify changes in these secondary endpoints and therefore the results should be viewed as indicative of the potential health benefits of consuming the C. sativa transgenic oil rather than evidence of effectiveness.

The mixed fish oil and the transgenic C. sativa oil were well tolerated in both experiments without adverse events occurring which could be attributed to the consumption of either of the two test oils. However, one participant withdrew from the supplement study because they found the fish oil supplement uncomfortable.

GM plants .

The genetic insertion of desaturase and elongase enzymes from yeast and algae into plants that naturally produce ALA has facilitated the development of canola (canola) and Camelina sativa (C. sativa) strains that produce oils that contain either EPA or DHA , or EPA plus DHA.

A transgenic canola strain that produces an oil with 10% DHA but less than 1% EPA was developed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) (Petrie et al. 2020) and by Nuseed (Tocher et al 2019). Similarly, a transgenic canola strain that produces a seed oil containing 0.2% DHA and 8.1% EPA has been commercialized by Cargill for aquaculture feed (Napier et al. 2019).