Something’s fishy about new canola project

One acre of Nuseed canola, now in field trials, could produce the equivalent DHA oil of 4,000 one-kilogram fish

CORRECTION – August 12, 2015 1015 CST – this story originally stated Dow AgroSciences was involved in a joint partnership with Cargill and BASF. The partnership is actually between Cargill and BASF.      

Canola containing healthy fish oil is in field trials around the world.

“I think this will be huge for canola,” said Malcolm Devine, innovation lead for Nuseed Group, an Australian seed company.

“This might be the next really big change in terms of what the oil in that crop looks like.”

Nuseed is working on a $50 million project in conjunction with the Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Australian Grains Research & Development Corp.

Cargill, in partnership with BASF, are also working on developing lines of canola containing the long-chain omega3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Devine expects Nuseed will have a product commercialized in Australia before the end of the decade and then branch out to other countries.

“Canada and the U.S. would be the most likely places as we get into the expansion phase of the project,” he said.

James Petrie, a research scientist with CSIRO, said the ocean supply of omega 3 fish oil isn’t enough to meet growing demand for the product.

“If everyone followed the World Health Organization’s recommendation about intake of long-chain omega 3, we would already exceed the ocean’s capacity to produce this stuff,” he told the 2015 International Rapeseed Congress.

Consuming omega 3 fatty acid decreases inflammation, increases brain function and decreases the risk of developing heart disease.

CSIRO considered a wide variety of crops for the omega 3 project but settled on canola because it is already a high quality and healthy oil, is produced in many regions around the world, produces more oil than other oilseeds and has decades of breeding experience.

“This is not to be minimized when you’re making a valuable product,” said Petrie.

He said there is increased demand for the product because of an aging population. The nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical markets show big growth opportunity, he added.

“The supply will simply not be able to match it,” he said.

CSIRO’s canola was created by inserting seven or eight genes sourced from marine algae in southern oceans.

Those algae are the source of the omega 3 oil found in fish because the algae are consumed by bigger organisms, which are devoured by krill, which are in turn eaten by fish.

The canola was in field trials last year, where it produced DHA oil at levels equal to that found in wild fish.

Petrie estimates one acre of the canola will produce the equivalent DHA oil of 4,000, one-kilogram fish.

“That is an extremely strong sus-tainability argument and this is one of the underpinning reasons for this project,” he said.

The initial varieties are rich in DHA. Future varieties may contain high levels of both DHA and EPA, said Devine.

He is “cautiously optimistic” that the project will help sway public opinion in favour of genetically modified crops because it has clear health and environmental sustain-ability benefits.

“You can’t mine any more (omega 3 oil) out of the ocean,” said Devine.

Cargill field tested its omega 3 canola in the United States last year.

BASF is contributing the genetics and its regulatory expertise to the project.

Cargill will be the commercial partner, contributing its food formulation expertise and access to global food and beverage customers.

“We’re making pretty good progress, but it’s not next year,” said Willie Loh, Cargill’s vice-president of market development.

Dow AgroSciences has also been field testing canola lines that make DHA and EPA.

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