Rothamsted Research seeks permission for GM field trials

Rothamsted Research, based in the South of England,  has submitted an application to DEFRA for permission to carry out GM field trial. It is envisaged that the work will be carried out at Rothamsted Farm in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Scientists at Rothamsted Research have developed Camelina plants that accumulate omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) in their seeds and the purpose of the proposed trial is to evaluate in the field the performance of this trait. Camelina is a member of the flax family.

Omega-3 LC-PUFAs have been shown to be beneficial for human health  and contribute to protection against coronary heart diseases (CHD). The primary dietary sources of these fatty acids are marine fish,  either wild stocks or farmed fish (aquaculture). Fish, like humans, do not produce these oils but rather they accumulate them through their diet in the wild or through fishmeal and fish oil in farmed fish.

Around 80 percent of all fish oil is consumed by the aquaculture sector and this rapidly expanding modern industry is seeking new omega-3 LC-PUFAs sources to ensure its production practices remain sustainable and nurture the essential aquatic food web.

One potential approach towards flexible and sustainable supply of omega-3 LC-PUFAs is to engineer a crop plant with the capacity to synthesise these fatty acids in seeds. Rothamsted Research, through the strategic funding received from the BBSRC, have over the years developed genetically engineered Camelina plants,  that can successfully produce omega-3 LC-PUFAs in the lab and in glass houses

Professor Johnathan Napier, lead scientist of this project at Rothamsted Research said:

“We have produced three varieties of plants: one where four synthetic genes have been introduced into the plant, one that five genes have been introduced in the plant and one that seven synthetic genes have been introduced into the plant.”

Professor Martin Parry, Acting Director of Rothamsted Research added:

“It will be a significant step forward, if we are granted permission to perform a controlled experiment in our already established facilities here at Rothamsted Research. We will be able to assess, in real environmental conditions, the potential of contributing a more sustainable and affordable alternative way of providing fish oil. This will potentially enable us to provide knowledge that may contribute in reducing the pressure on the marine resources. Carrying out a field experiment will be the only way to assess the viability of a solution that can bring economic benefits to the farmers.”