New 5-year GM field trial approved in UK

A five-year field trial to investigate the performance of plants making heart-healthy oils has been approved by Defra.

The department has given Rothamsted permission to run a series of trials using genetically modified Camelina plants.

The successful application follows previous GM Camelina trials carried out last year by Rothamsted across two sites in Hertfordshire and Suffolk.

The first part of the proposed research will determine performance in the field, and the seed oil yield, of transgenic Camelina plants that have been engineered to accumulate omega-3 fish oils in their seeds.

These fatty acids, also known as omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, help protect against human cardiovascular disease.

A recent study led by the University of Southampton found the uptake and use of these oils by the body was the same whether plant or fish-based sources were consumed.

Similarly, in a collaboration with the University of Stirling and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, it was shown that these GM oils were an effective substitute for fish oil in the feeds of farmed salmon.

The hope is to develop a sustainable source of these beneficial oils from plants rather than from oceanic sources and to provide more of these important nutrients.

The second strand of work will look at the performance of Camelina plants whose metabolism has been altered to increase seed oil content.

The final part will investigate the performance of Camelina plants engineered to contain less sinapine in their seeds. Sinapine is a bitter-tasting, antinutritive chemical that can make the protein-rich seed meal less palatable as an animal feed.

The trial also includes an appraisal of some gene edited plants, which were reclassified as GM by the EU last year. This part of the trial, using CRISPR-Cas9 gene technology, is looking to boost the amount of oleic acid – used in both food and industrial processes – already in the seeds.

This experiment is part of Tailoring Plant Metabolism, one of Rothamsted’s five strategic programmes (2017-2022) that receive financial support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.