Vegetarian source of omega-3 successfully trialled

Omega-3 fats usually found in oily fish could be available in a genetically modified vegetable oil, a new study has found.

Researchers from the University of Southampton and agricultural research group Rothamsted Research genetically modified a seed oil crop to contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in similar quantities to those found in fish oil. EHA and DHA have been found to be the most directly beneficial omega-3 fats for health and development.

The findings are significant as this plant-derived version could help those who currently miss out on omega-3s due to dietary choices, such as vegetarianism, to increase their intake.

The results, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, showed there was no difference in the uptake of EPA and DHA from the enhanced vegetable oil compared with fish oil. Professor Graham Burdge, research lead from the University of Southampton said, “These findings show that the oil from this transgenic plant is an effective means of providing EPA and DHA in the diet which overcomes the negative effect on EPA and DHA intakes of consuming a diet that excludes animal products.”

While there is no specific dose recommendation of omega-3 intake, dietary guidelines suggest two portions of fish per week, one of which should be oily fish. However, according to University of Southampton, the UK consumes less than half of the recommended EPA and DHA. Marine sources can only provide less than 15% of the global demand for these fatty acids, and so the modified oil could provide a sustainable and scalable source for the future.

Professor Johnathan Napier, research lead for Rothamsted Research added: “It is genuinely exciting to see our research progress to the point where we are carrying out human studies, and even more pleasing to see such positive outcomes.”

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