A shortage of healthy omega-3 fatty acids from fish is looming as the global climate warms. Here is a plant biotechnology solution


VSThe consumption of fish and other seafood has played a central role in human history as a nourishing protein. It deserves a reminder: The global demand for healthy proteins such as omega-3 oil reflects one of the many challenges facing global food security. Research suggests that due to global warming, by 2100 96 percent of the world’s population may not have sufficient access to DHA, the natural essential omega-3 fatty acid for brain building. Researchers estimate an overall loss of around 10 to 58% of global DHA over the next 80 years.

Innovation is needed to support natural fisheries while encouraging the sustainable production of farmed fish.

Overfishing has become a major dilemma in the Earth’s vast oceans. According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, more than 90 percent of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited, overexploited or depleted. In addition, changing weather conditions and ocean temperatures affect ocean life. This includes the shortage of sardines along the South African coast, as a November 2020 study of South African Journal of Science show that climate change caused by the climate crisis may threaten the sardine run. If sardines migrate later in the year, it could lead to food shortages for sharks and other species that feed on them.

Omega-3 oil, including fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is essential in the human diet and has been shown to reduce inflammation and some risks of chronic disease. DHA is a key component of cell membranes and is essential for brain function. It helps regulate cell survival, inflammation, and neuroprotection, and makes up 10 percent of fatty acids in mammalian brains. DHA is also believed to help develop the central nervous system and the retina. New research indicates that DHA and other types of omega-3s can help people with depression, if taken with antidepressants. DHA is especially helpful for fetuses, babies, and young children to develop healthy brains and eyes.

But humans cannot make enough DHA on their own. To reach the recommended dose – 1.1g for adult women and 1.6g for adult men per day – they must either eat foods rich in DHA like fish and seafood once or twice a week, or take food supplements. Omega-3 oils are only found in certain species of cold-water fatty fish, including sardines, mackerel, and salmon.

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) molecule. Credit: iStock

Ethical and environmental concerns arose during the sustainable supply of omega-3 oils from naturally caught fish for use in commercial fishmeal used in farmed fish, including salmon. A recent investigation, detailing the collective opinion of 30 global seafood purchasing managers of Spheric Research, on behalf of the Global Seafood Alliance, found that retail demand for the most popular seafood species such as salmon and shrimp has increased by double digits and will continue to rise this year.

Also, according to a recent Nielsen study, seafood consumption increased by more than 30 percent in retail channels in North America in 2020, more than any other type of animal protein, including beef and chicken. In this study, participating retail purchasing managers found that demand for salmon and shrimp increased by 30% in North America and 20% in Europe.

Innovation is needed to support natural fisheries while encouraging the sustainable production of farmed fish. Plant-based alternatives to fish oil, including an omega-3 fish oil alternative, are in high demand, especially as the public is better informed about the foods they eat and the impact. that they can have on their health. Therefore, the technology is developed using Camelina plants as a platform to produce oils that closely mimic omega-3 fish oil containing EPA and DHA, without fish.

The Yield10 Biosciences team participates in a global research effort to use the oilseed plant Camelina sativa as a platform to produce omega-3 oil representing a sustainable, earth-friendly solution to provide this heart-healthy oil for use in commercial fish feed, especially farmed salmon. Last year, Yield10 formed a collaboration with Rothamsted Research to develop biotechnology for production omega-3 in Camelina as a potential alternative to fish oil. As part of the deal, Yield10 has an exclusive two-year option to sign a worldwide license agreement to develop and commercialize this herbal omega-3 technology.

Camelina sativa. Credit: Nexles

Rothamsted leader Johnathan A. Napier is the lead author of a article published this year in Nature describing how AgTech innovation could help aquaculture become greener. The paper explains how aquaculture can provide fish protein to a growing global population while remaining within the “planetary limits” of environmental sustainability. It also presents research on how, due to overfishing and declining marine diversity, only aquaculture has the potential to meet the needs of 10 billion people by 2050, while remaining within the limits of the planet. Therefore, using omega-3 oil produced in Camelina represents an attractive alternative for combating overfishing associated with harvesting natural fish to produce omega-3 oil, and providing enough omega-3 as a nutrient for farmed fish as a healthy protein for the human nutrition.

Over the past decade, the Rothamsted team led by Napier have successfully produced omega-3 DHA / EPA fish oils in Camelina seed. The The Rothamsted team used recombinant genetic engineering techniques to replicate the omega-3 biosynthetic pathway from algae to Camelina. This approach has worked very well to achieve high levels of EPA and DHA in seed oil. Camelina. The Rothamsted team has demonstrated that the omega-3 oil produced in Camelina already matches (or exceeds) the levels of DHA / EPA found in northern hemisphere fish oil (such as mackerel or cod liver) and is working on technology to increase omega-3 levels to match with fish oil from the southern hemisphere. The Rothamsted team also conducted multi-year field trials and multiple feeding studies showing the equivalence of DHA and EPA. Camelina with natural omega-3 fish oil in feeding studies of salmon, trout and sea bass.

Because it is easily genetically modified, has a rapid growth cycle and demonstrates robust agronomy, Camelina is an ideal crop to produce this fish oil substitute. There are also benefits to avoiding the production of staple crops like canola and soybeans because Camelina seeds are easier to separate from major seed export crops during production, harvesting and processing.

We recognized early on that the work at Rothamsted had not only been scientifically successful, but had been nutritionally shown to be essentially a substitute for fish oil. , both in aquaculture feed for salmon farming and sea bream, but also for direct use in human food.

We plan to submit our Camelina for approval in South American countries, followed by North America. We believe that attitudes towards biotech crops and products may change as consumers see the sustainability and benefits of the products in the new crops being developed. Produce omega-3 oil on earth, Camelina, has clear advantages in terms of nutrition and sustainability over oil extraction from wild caught fish.

Dr Oliver Peoples is the CEO of Yield10 Bioscience, an agricultural bioscience company that focuses on developing disruptive technologies to produce radical improvements in food and forage crop yields to improve global food security. Prior to founding Metabolix, Dr. Peoples was a researcher in the Department of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Find him on Twitter @ Yield10Bio


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