Omega-3s: could genetically modified oil seed crops replace fish?

omega 3The world’s population is expanding and the demand for food increases every day. However, earth’s supplies are limited. Polyunsaturated fats, such as omega-3s, are essential to a healthy diet. Omega-3s are particularly found in fish oil, but the supplies of fish are finite. Could a genetically modified oil replace fish?

A new type of omega-3 enriched oil, called Camelina oil, has been developed in the UK as part of a research program about omega-3s’ health benefits. It contains eicosapentaenoic acid (ESA), which is an omega-3 fatty acid that has been proven to be beneficial for cardiovascular, mental and fetal health. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a dietary intake of 500mg ESA a day. This is equivalent to 2 portions of fatty fish a week.

Supplies of fish are limited and there is a large deficit between demand and supply. Fish supplies no more than 40% of the world’s demand for ESA, so alternative, sustainable resources need to be found. Other natural sources of ESA include nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables and soy products. Still, all these resources together won’t provide the world’s demand. Consequently, synthetic oils are needed to close the gap between the current supply and the increasing demand.

Researchers of the University of East Anglia, UK (UEA) studied mice that had followed a diet of feed enriched with Camelina oil. The goal of this research was to determine whether mammals can absorb ESA from this synthetic oil or not.

After ten weeks, the research team examined the amount of ESA in multiple organs of the mice, including the brain, liver and muscles. It appeared that mice were able to absorb and accumulate ESA from Camelina oil. This means that, in the future, this new oil is likely to represent an alternative terrestrial source of omega-3 fatty acids, which would ease the current demands on global fish production.

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