Omega-3 oil to come from oceans of canola

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 Advances by an Australian research partnership could see Australian canola growers producing one of the world’s most in-demand human nutrition oils within a few years.

The GRDC is collaborating with CSIRO and Nuseed to develop canola varieties that express long-chain (LC) omega-3 oils that are currently sourced mainly from algae-eating ocean fish.

The canola lines have reached field-trial stage, and are being evaluated for agronomic and technology performance under field conditions.

Nuseed will commercialise the technology, which is expected to deliver from terrestrial crops these highly valuable oils that are said to be important in human physiology.

Health experts around the world cite a long list of benefits associated with LC omega-3 oils.

LC omega-3 oils are used in many products, including health supplements and as ingredients to fortify many foods.

The oil is also used in large quantities as a feed additive for farmed fish that do not have access to the marine plants (algae) that would otherwise provide it.

With increasing demand, LC omega-3 oils have become difficult to obtain without stressing the traditional source – ocean fish.

Millions of tonnes of wild fish are harvested each year for fish oil and fish meal and there are concerns about the sustainability of these marine populations.

This has meant the growth in market demand for LC omega-3 oil for both human and aquaculture uses is being restricted by limitations on the fish catch.

About 10 years ago this unbalanced demand–supply equation triggered a global R&D push for alternative and renewable sources of LC omega-3 oil.

It has become a highly competitive research area and several world-leading laboratories and agricultural biotechnology companies have been involved in trying to develop alternative production systems.

The GRDC-supported Australian collaboration has emerged as a leader in this global race after developing canola plants that have LC omega-3 oils at sufficiently high levels. At CSIRO, the project is being led by Dr Surinder Singh and coordinated by Dr James Petrie.

Dr Singh says CSIRO’s strategy was to use GM techniques to introduce several plant genes into canola, allowing them to make extra fatty-acid-processing enzymes.

The extra enzymes allow canola’s existing short forms of omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA) to be extended into the long-chain varieties – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – that are normally sourced, via fish, from marine plants.

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Canola researchers in omega-3 breakthrough

GRDC Project Code CSP00145

Region National