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article imageTransgenic plants engineered to create Omega-3s

By Tim Sandle     Jan 4, 2014 in Environment
Researchers at U.K. biotech Rothamsted Research have generated a transgenic plant that produces omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Using transgenics, scientists have identified a set of genes that direct the synthesis of omega-3 fatty acids in the seed oil of the plant Camelina sativa (which goes under the common names of camelina, gold-of-pleasure, or false flax). According to a research brief, the scientists hope that the genetically modified crop can be used for the production of healthier foods. The false flax plant has a long association with biofuels.
Transgenics is the process of introducing a gene from one species — called a transgene — into a living organism so that the organism will exhibit a new property and transmit that property to its offspring. This creates a genetically modified organism (GMO), that is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. GMO is officially defined in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety as "any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology."
In the new research, scientists have described a set of genes that regulate the synthesis of omega-3 fatty acids in the seed oil of the crop Camelina sativa. By gene transfer, a transgenic C. sativa has been created which produces omega-3s at levels equivalent to those in fish oils.
The most important omega-3s are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) — known to reduce the risk of heart disease — and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — a lack of which has been linked to visual and cognitive problems. The modified plant is said to contain around 12 percent EPA and 14 percent DHA.
In a review by the magazine New Scientist, the scientist explain that their motivation was to help “significantly take the pressure off fish stocks.”
The findings have been written in a paper published in The Plant Journal titled "Successful high-level accumulation of fish oil omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in a transgenic oilseed crop."
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