Canola genetically engineered to produce commercially relevant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids

Scientists from Dow AgroSciences have for the first time genetically engineered canola, a widely grown oilseed crop, to produce commercially relevant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Results from field trials of the canola engineered with omega-3 fatty acid producing genes from marine microalgae are reported in Nature Biotechnology. The omega-3 rich canola oil could offer a more sustainable alternative to fish oil often used in diet supplements, according to the study’s authors.


Dr. Kan Wang, Global Biotechnology Professor, Department of Agronomy, and Director, Center for Plant Transformation, Iowa State University (webpage):

Expertise: Crop biotechnology; novel and advanced technologies for crop genetic transformation; plant-based pharmaceutical and industrial products

“Finally, an omega-3 enriched salad dressing can be expected from grocery stores, if it is approved by regulatory agencies.  The group at Dow AgroSciences introduced a microalgal polyunsaturated fatty acids system into canola, a major oil seed crop.  The system was expressed specifically in the seed, which leads to the production of omega-3 fatty acids.  The transgenic canola lines were characterized extensively at a molecular level and evaluated for over 5 generations under both greenhouse and field conditions.  The final canola oil processed from the seeds contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids that can be marketed directly as bottled canola oil or in other food ingredients such as salad dressings.  One serving of the oil (3 teaspoons) can provide 600 mg of omega-3, which is more than the daily dose recommended by most global health organizations.

“Using land plants to make fish oil for resource conservation is not a new idea.  In fact, the long chain omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) have been produced in a number of oilseed plants by other research groups in the past.  What’s new in this work is the engineering strategy used by the Dow AgroSciences group.  They introduced a large microalgae biosynthetic system that includes multiple proteins and enzymes into canola.  This approach allows the engineered seeds to produce additional fatty acids instead of just converting existing fatty acids into polyunsaturated fatty acids, a strategy used in earlier efforts.

“The DHA and EPA production levels in this system are lower than those produced by the past conversion strategies.  However, the levels of DHA (3.7%) and EPA (0.7%) in processed oil obtained from the field-grown canola seeds is high enough for commercialization.  Another advantage of this strategy is that it does not accumulate other intermediate fatty acids. Those intermediate fatty acids can increase oxidative instability of the oil and often are the culprit of off-flavors for oil products.”


Declared interests (see GENeS register of interests policy):

Dr. Kan Wang: Dr. Wang collaborated with a Dow AgroSciences group on crop genetic transformation from 2009 to 2010.


‘Canola engineered with a microalgal polyketide synthase-like system produces oil enriched in docosahexaenoic acid’, published in Nature Biotechnology on July 11, 2016

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