The Canberra based members of the Food Futures Flagship team that developed plants with DHA in their seeds. From left to right, Dr Surinder Singh, Dr Xue-Rong Zhou and Dr Qing Liu.
Creating omega-3 in grains
A diet high in omega-3 oils has many health benefits, but the oils have only been available through fish. The Food Futures Flagship is working to create commercial oilseed varieties that produce long-chain omega-3 oils.
10 July 2006 | Updated 3 May 2012
Omega-3 oils are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are considered ‘healthy oils’.
Docosa-hexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are long-chain omega-3 oils that are particularly favoured for their health benefits.
In the past, long-chain omega-3 oils have been made by lower plant forms, like microalgae. They have then predominantly been acquired by fish, and eventually by humans through the food chain.
A team of researchers from the Food Futures Flagship is developing crops that produce omega-3 oils in their seeds, to provide the health benefits of omega-3 oils without depending on limited fish stocks.
The benefits of omega-3 oils
The health benefits of a diet high in long-chain omega-3 oils include:
Omega-3 oils are also useful as an anti-inflammatory agent and may have benefits on neuropsychiatric disorders, such as cognition, mood and depression.
Nutritional authorities suggest a daily intake of at least 430 mg for women and 610 mg for men of long-chain omega-3 oils, including EPAand DHA. Dietary surveys show that most Australians only consume an average of 30 mgs of EPA and DHA each day.
The team is creating new plant varieties by:
identifying genes in microalgae that produce omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA
inserting the genes into oilseed plants, so they will produce the DHA fatty acids in their oils.
A successful prototype has already been created, by inserting microalgae genes for producing DHA into Arabidopsis plants.
A successful prototype has already been created, by inserting microalgae genes for producing EPA and DHA into Arabidopsis plants (that is, plants from the mustard family). The plants produced EPA and DHA in their seed oil.
The team is now working to create commercial oilseed crops containing EPA, DHA and other omega-3 oils. As with all genetically-modified plants, the new crops will need to undergo extensive testing and safety evaluation before being made commercially available.
Many foods are now enriched with omega-3 oils from fish, but with declining natural fish stocks, and aquaculture's current reliance on fish-based feeds, additional sources of long-chain omega-3 oils are urgently needed.
EPA and DHA enriched crop plants could:
provide consumers with cheaper and more varied sources of EPA and DHA, particularly valuable to those with fish allergies or who, because of cost, availability or choice, don’t have a high level of fish consumption in their diet
reduce demand on natural fish stocks as a source of EPA and DHA
allow fish in aquaculture to be fed EPA and DHA enriched plants, rather than continuing to use other fish as a feed, improving the sustainability of aquaculture without compromising quality.
The team aims to have a commercial product available by 2013.
About the scientists
The research and development of EPA and DHA containing oilseed crops is being carried out by a team lead by Dr Surinder Singh of the Food Futures Flagship.
This team includes staff from:
The team works closely with staff from Food Science Australia, CSIRO Human Nutrition and CSIRO Livestock Industries who are also part of the Food Futures Flagship and are looking at aspects of incorporating EPA and DHA into foods and feeds.
Find out more about our work with Future grains, grain based foods and feed.