Oil made from genetically modified (GM) oilseeds could replace fish oil as the main source of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acid EPA, according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).
The researchers investigated the effects of mice enriched with oil from genetically modified Camelina sativa from greenhouse cultivation, which was developed at the Agricultural Science Center Rothamsted Research.
The aim of the research was to find out whether mammals (using mice as a model) can absorb and accumulate EPA from this novel source of omega-3 fatty acids.
The team studied EPA levels in various organs of the body such as the liver and their effects on the expression of genes that are critical in regulating the way the body processes fats. The results show that the benefits were similar to those of fish oils.
Lead researcher Prof. Anne-Marie Minihane of the UEA’s Norwich Medical School said: “The long-chain polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid EPA has positive effects on cardiovascular and cognitive health as well as on fetal development during pregnancy.
“The minimum recommended food intake can be achieved by consuming one to two servings of fatty fish per week.
“But for everyone in the world to have their minimal food intake, they would need about 1.3 million tons of EPA per year. Fish currently provides about 40 percent of the required amount – so there is a big deficit between supply and demand.
“There is a great need to identify alternative and sustainable sources for these beneficial fatty acids.
“We wanted to test whether oil from genetically modified plants can be used as a substitute. This first study shows that mammals can efficiently accumulate the most important health-promoting omega-3 fatty acids EPA.”
The research team looked at mice that had been fed EPA oil made from genetically engineered Camelina sativa, commonly known as fake flax, but actually part of the Brassicaceae family. The plants were grown in greenhouses owned by mainly publicly funded Rothamsted Research.
The researchers investigated whether consuming oil made from technical plants was just as beneficial as EPA-rich fish oil. To do this, they tested the tissue concentrations of fatty acids in liver, muscle and brain tissue, as well as the expression of genes that are involved in the regulation of EPA status and its physiological benefits.
Prof. Minihane said, “The mice were fed a control diet similar to a western-style human diet for ten weeks, along with EPA supplements made from genetically engineered Camelina sativa or fish oil – enough time to see beneficial results.”
“We found the genetically engineered oil to be a bioavailable source of EPA with benefits to the liver comparable to those of eating oily fish.”
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