Harpenden scientists given go-ahead for GM crop for fish oil alternatives

Rothamsted Research in Harpenden has been given permission to carry out a GM trial with plants engin

Rothamsted Research in Harpenden has been given permission to carry out a GM trial with plants engineered to produce omega-3 oils in their seeds - Credit: Sarah Usher/Rothamsted Research

A Harpenden research centre is hailing permission to carry out a genetically modified field trial with plants engineered to produce oils which contribute to protection against coronary heart disease as a “significant milestone”.

Rothamsted Research in Harpenden has been given permission to carry out a GM trial with plants engin

Rothamsted Research in Harpenden has been given permission to carry out a GM trial with plants engineered to produce omega-3 oils in their seeds - Credit: Sarah Usher/Rothamsted Research

Approval has been given three months after Rothamsted Research asked the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for the go-ahead to carry out the trials on its farm from this year until 2017.

Scientists have developed Camelina plants that accumulate omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) in their seeds.

They will now carry out trials to evaluate the performance of that trait in the field.

The LC-PUFAs have been shown to be beneficial to human health.

The primary dietary sources of these fatty acids are fish – either wild or farmed.

Like humans, fish do not produce these oils but accumulate them through their diet in the wild, or through fishmeal in farmed fish.

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About 80 per cent of all fish oil is consumed by the aquaculture sector, and this rapidly expanding industry is seeking new omega-3 LC-PUFAs as sources to ensure its production is sustainable.

Rothamsted researchers have over the years developed genetically engineered Camelina plants that can successfully produce omega-3 LC-PUFAs in the lab, and in the glasshouse.

Professor Johnathan Napier, lead scientist of this project in Harpenden, said: “We welcome the decision of Defra to grant us permission to carry out our proposed field trial.

“We have made considerable progress over the last 10 years in designing and developing these plants and my colleagues and I are very happy that we can now test the performance of these plants, under real-life conditions.”

He added: “Being able to carry out the field trial with our GM plants means that we have reached a significant milestone in the delivery of our research programme.”

The controlled experiment will be conducted at Rothamsted, and sowing of Camelina seeds will take place by mid-May this year.

The plants will then be harvested a few months later, in August or September. A small amount of seed will be used to analyse oil content, while all of the rest of the seed and plant material will be destroyed, as set out in the centre’s consent conditions.

The GM inspectorate of the Food and Environment Research Agency will be carrying out regular inspections.

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