Rothamsted Research agricultural institute in Hertfordshire has applied to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for permission to conduct field trials of the GM crop.
They plan to “cut and paste” genes derived from marine algae into Camelina sativa – or “false flax” – to produce the world’s first sustainable plant source of fish oil omega-3 fatty acids.
Scientists chose Camelina sativa, which is grown for animal feed, vegetable oil and biofuel in Europe and North America, because it has high levels of plant fatty acids and genes which can be easily manipulated.
During greenhouse studies, the Harpenden-based team substituted synthetic versions of up to seven genes from marine algae to create Camelina plants which produce EPA and DHA – two important omega-3 fatty acids usually taken from oily fish.
They are believed to have health benefits including protection against heart disease.
If the field trials are approved, the first crops could be planted in around three months’ time.
The initial aim is to aid the fish farming sector, which uses 80% of fish oil supplies, but it is believed the GM-produced oil could find its way into food products such as margarine within 10 years’ time.
Lead researcher Professor Johnathan Napier, whose team has worked on the project for 15 years, said: “We now have a vegetable oil enhanced with these two critical fish oils.
“The next really exciting challenge for us is to say, ‘We know it works in the glasshouse; does it work in the real world?'”
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