A field of bright yellow canola in full flower with native trees and a windmill

The collaboration will undertake research to develop long chain DHA omega-3 in oilseed plants

Australian scientific collaboration set to break world’s reliance on fish for long chain omega-3

A pioneering Australian research alliance is leading the international race to break the world’s reliance on fish stocks for its supply of the vital dietary nutrient, long chain omega-3.

  • 12 April 2011 | Updated 3 April 2014

Today three Australian organisations announced an A$50 million dollar research collaboration which will use leading edge gene technology to develop and commercialise vegetable oil which will contain the same high quality, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) rich long chain omega-3 that traditionally comes from fish.

This collaboration brings together Nuseed (a wholly owned subsidiary of Nufarm Ltd), CSIRO and the Australian Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

Already as part of the project, CSIRO scientists have made a significant breakthrough by enabling canola plants to generate long chain omega-3 oils that contain DHA, something that up until now has only been found in beneficial quantities in ocean-based algae and the fish that eat it.

Some land-based plants, like flaxseed, can produce short-chain omega-3 oils, but are unable to produce the more beneficial long chain omega-3 oils containing DHA.

The three parties have signed two major agreements to develop and market plant made ‘DHA-rich’ long chain omega-3 oils, utilising world leading gene technology. The first agreement is a multi-year collaborative research project to achieve a series of development milestones and complete a broad range of studies. The second agreement is a global exclusive commercial license to Nuseed for existing and co-developed long chain omega-3 intellectual property.

DHA and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) long chain omega-3s are fatty acids which have well-documented roles in heart and brain health, child and infant development, treating inflammation and other health functions.

The awareness of their health benefits and inclusion in diets – either as supplements or used to fortify processed foods – has grown exponentially over the last decade.

The Global Organisation for EPA/DHA (GOED) currently value the total long chain omega-3 market at US$18.6 billion.

"Our scientists have shown that it is possible to produce the same quality long chain omega-3 oils as that found in fish, and at a level that is commercially viable." Dr Bruce Lee, Director CSIRO Food Futures Flagship.

"Our scientists have shown that it is possible to produce the same quality long chain omega-3 oils as that found in fish, and at a level that is commercially viable."

Dr Bruce Lee, Director CSIRO Food Futures Flagship

The primary source of these long chain omega-3s is fish, and as demand continues to grow faster than can be sustainably supplied from wild fish stocks, the race is on to find potential new sources which can satisfy burgeoning consumer demand.

This is why the long chain Omega-3 Oil Research Collaboration has been created.

CSIRO, and Nuseed with the financial support of the GRDC have come together to undertake the research and trials to develop the highest quality of long chain DHA omega-3 in oilseed plants at levels equal to or better than fish oil.

CSIRO has long led the way in research aimed at developing plants, through the transfer of genes from one plant (microalgae) to another (canola), which can produce the omega-3 fatty acids typically found in fish oil.

The first phase of the project is to assess milestones, obtain regulatory approval, and launch a canola based product in Australia.

The new collaboration aims to be trialling elite canola lines as early as 2013 and have seeds commercially available by 2016.

Dr Bruce Lee, Director of CSIRO’s Food Futures Flagship said, 'We are excited about the potential of this partnership. Our scientists have shown that it is possible to produce the same quality long chain omega-3 oils as that found in fish, and at a level that is commercially viable. By being able to produce long chain omega-3 oils in canola we are developing a nutrient that is important for human health in a sustainable plant resource.'

'CSIRO has had a long history of ground breaking research in omega-3 nutrition and plant genetics, providing the scientific basis to develop plants containing long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids typically found in fish oils, such as EPA and DHA. Now we are much closer to seeing the results of this important research turned into a product that is available to consumers and industry,' said Dr Lee.

The GRDC provided financial support to assist in the development of the technology to make the production of the special canola possible and Nuseed has joined to support the next stage of development, regulatory approval and global commercialisation.

Nuseed’s General Manager of Global Seeds, Brent Zacharias said, 'As an emerging global seed and traits company we are in a strong position to collaborate with CSIRO and GRDC to achieve the research milestones and deliver a high quality product to the world market.'

GRDC CEO John Harvey said, 'Plant-based omega-3 oil production is a sustainable, long-term solution to the growing demand for omega-3 oils.  This alternative long-chain omega-3 canola oil supplement in fish feed will provide Australian growers with an exciting new variety for domestic and international grain markets.'

Video: Developing canola with high quality Omega-3 oil

Show Transcript

[Title appears: A NEW SOURCE OF OMEGA 3 OILS]

[Image changes to show a pile of fish oil capsules]

Narrator: Omega 3 fatty acids are necessary for human health, playing an important role in heart and brain function, as well as child and infant development. 

[Image shows a family sitting at a table eating a meal]

The body can only make very small amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids, so they need to be obtained from the food we eat.

[Image shows a table of food with breads, vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy foods, image then changes to three fish on ice]

Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fish, such as salmon and tuna, but the original source of these healthy oils are tiny plant like organisms in the ocean called microalgae.  Fish contain Omega 3 fatty acids because they eat these microalgae.  

[Image shows fish swimming past]

Fish have long been the main source of the most beneficial Omega 3 oils, until now, thanks to some groundbreaking research from the CSIRO.


Some plants, like flaxseed, contain some Omega 3 oils; however they mostly provide what are called short chain Omega 3s.

[Animated video of a long chain DHA and short chain DHA plays]

Show here is the structure of a typical short chain Omega 3 oil, ALA, found in flax oil.

[Animated video of short chain ALA plays]

And here is the structure of DHA, the important long chain Omega 3 oil found in fish.

[Animated video of long chain DHA plays]

This longer more complex structure of a long chain DHA is particularly important in delivering the increased health benefits that come from consuming fish oils.


[Animated video of the human body plays]

The Omega 3 DHA we eat is transported to the human brain, eyes, and nervous system, where it’s required for their proper development and function, and is particularly important in infants.  Long chain Omega 3 DHA has also been found to reduce the risk of heart disease, and it may also play a role in mental health, depression, and various inflammatory diseases.


[Image changes to a scientist working at a table, cutting up a plant sample]

CSIRO scientists are using advanced genetic technologies to transfer the genes that make long chain Omega 3 oils from ocean based microalgae to land based canola plants.  Unlike canola, microalgae contain all the genes needed to make DHA.

[Animated image of a plant cell and agrobacterium cell appears]

CSIRO scientists have isolated an optimum set of genes from microalgae that make Omega 3 DHA.  The microalgae genes are transferred into canola plant cells using a bacterium called Agrobacterium, which uses a natural process to transfer genes to plant cells.

[Animation video showing transfer of cells plays]

Cells receiving the microalgae genes then divide and develop into a small shoot...

[Camera shot of shooting plants]

... and finally a whole plant, similar to how you can take a cutting from an adult plant and regenerate it into a new plant.

[Camera shot of plants in pots]

The genetically modified canola plants are tested thoroughly over a number of generations, to ensure that the plant is making DHA. 

[Image shows a scientist inspecting a plant]

All of the steps needed to carry out this process, as well as trialling elite canola lines and growing commercial crops, are conducted under the strict regulatory requirements administered by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.

[Title appears: BIG BENEFITS]

[Image shows a scientist in a laboratory with a shelving unit with lots of plant samples in containers, the scientist is inspecting the plant samples]

With an increasing consumer demand for Omega 3 oils, and limitations on the ability of global fish stocks to meet the expected demand, developing a land based source of long chain Omega 3 oils will help meet the world’s growing appetite for this important oil in a sustainable way.

CSIRO, NUSEED, and the GRDC, have established an important research collaboration to develop a high value canola oil which will contain the same high quality long chain Omega 3 oil that has traditionally come from fish. 

[Image shows canola oil, then changes to a canola plant field]

Australian farmers are set to benefit because they’ll have access to a new high value crop.  They’ll be guaranteed first access to this Omega 3 canola which will help them gain a competitive advantage over other farmers from around the world.

After commercialisation in the Australian market Omega 3 canola oil will be targeted for global expansion, ensuring a reliable and sustainable supply.  

[Camera pans over potted plants]

The Australian and global aquaculture industries will also benefit because they’ll be able to decrease their reliance on fish oil sourced from wild fish stocks.  

[Image changes to a fish swimming, then changes to fish on ice]

They’ll also be able to access a reliable and sustainable source of DHA in their production of high quality seafood products.

[Image changes to a supermarket checkout]

Those that will benefit most though are every day consumers, both in Australia and around the world.  They’ll soon have easy access to a sustainable and renewable source of long chain Omega 3 oils that are so vital to human health, through a wide range of products.

[Image changes to a table of different foods, then changes to a scientist in a greenhouse inspecting pot plants]

This project is a very exciting example of how Australian scientists, the Australian grains industry, and the Australian agribusiness industry, can come together to harness cutting edge research and supply global markets with a high value product.

[Flow chart of Long Chain Omega 3 Oils appears displaying Canola in the middle with arrows pointing to Aquaculture, Everyday foods and Everyday Consumers]

And with such important environmental and public health benefits to add to the industry benefits, Omega 3 canola is one of the most exciting research developments coming from Australian science.



About the Omega-3 Oil Research Collaboration

This collaboration brings together three of Australia’s leading organisations in grain research.

CSIRO through its Food Futures National Research Flagship is providing investment, the research science behind omega-3s, and developing transgenic omega-3 canola; Grains Research and Development Corporation (GDRC) is providing investment; and Nuseed is providing investment and development, including regulatory and breeding expertise to the collaboration.

Company background information


CSIRO is Australia's national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

CSIRO applies its world-leading scientific knowledge to create jobs, national wealth, a healthy and sustainable environment and improved living standards for all Australians.

CSIRO is enhancing Australia’s food production systems through an integrated ‘farm-to-fork’ approach.

CSIRO is delivering science to:

  • enable increased productivity and efficiencies at the farm level
  • improve the quality and yield of Australian crops
  • develop innovative food processing technologies
  • create new value-added foods
  • develop the nation’s livestock, aquaculture and fishery industries.


Nuseed, a wholly owned subsidiary company of Nufarm, is a global seed company committed to the breeding and production of high performance planting seed including:

  • canola
  • sunflower
  • grain
  • forage sorghum.

Nuseed is committed to the development of elite seed products that drive value both on the farm and through the agrifood chain. 

Nuseed is a member company of the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3 (GOED).


The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) is one of the world's leading grains research, development and extension (RD&E) organisations.

GRDC invests in RD&E to provide growers with vital information, knowledge and resources to support effective competition by Australian grain growers in global grain markets, through enhanced profitability and sustainability.

The GRDC’s investment in farming practices, plant varieties, and new products has helped position Australia’s growers as the best in the world.

Read more about CSIRO Plant Industry

Logos of Nuseed and Grains Research and Development Corporation