Go-ahead for a trial to grow a GM plant that produces omega-3 fish oils

The Guardian reports, 17th April 2014: “Scientists have been given permission to grow genetically modified plants that could help protect against heart disease.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has given the go-ahead for the field trial of a crop of GM camelina plants, the seeds of which are modified to produce fish oils. The oils could provide feed for farmed fish, meaning that fewer fish need to be caught from the sea, and ultimately could be used in health supplements or as an additive in foods such as margarine.

Scientists at Rothamsted Research Centre in Hertfordshire, who will run the trial, described the decision as a significant milestone for research into genetically modified plants.

Fish oils, or omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, have been proven to be beneficial for human health and to help protect against coronary heart disease. It is also hoped the crop, if grown commercially in the future, might reduce the burden of over-fishing. About 80% of the fish oil harvested from the oceans is fed to fish grown in farms.

GM plants to help fight heart disease given go-ahead

GM crops at Rothamsted Research Centre in Hertfordshire, which has permission to begin a new field trial. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Researchers spent 10 years designing a sustainable way to produce the oil before successfully growing the engineered plants in lab conditions. The trial was announced in January, but has been given the go-ahead now after a public consultation.

The particular oils that benefit the health of fish and humans, called EPA and DHA, are not in fact produced by fish themselves but instead accumulated by eating marine microbes. The team at Rothamstead took up to seven genesgene A string of the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) molecule that is the fundamental unit of inheritance, so it is variations in the make up of this molecule in the gene that controls variations in an organism's appearance and behaviour. Genes are found in the nucleus of the organism's cells. from algae that produce the fish oils and transplanted them into oil seed plants called camelina. It naturally produces short-chain oils and has been grown as a food crop for centuries in southern and eastern Europe and is used as a biofuel crop in North America.

The research is part of a project to find out how seeds could be enhanced to benefit the population’s health.

The experiment will start by the middle of May this year, with the plants harvested in August or September. Some seeds from the plants will be used for analysis, while the rest will be destroyed under the conditions of the consent. The GM inspectorate of the Food and Environment Research Agency will carry out regular inspections. The trial will be funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Source: The Guardian, 17th April 2014. For the full text see http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/apr/17/trial-gm-genetically-modified-plants-heart-disease-fish-oils-go-ahead

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