NOTE: This is classic hype. Apart from the occurence of these particular omega3 fatty acids in oily fish, as noted in the article, they also occur in seaweed, which is already part of some countries' diet, and the fatty acids concerned - EPA and DHA - can be, and are, made in the human body from omega 3 and 6 'parent' fatty acids, which are available from many other sources, including nuts and seeds.
This particular project was funded by the European Union - see the LIPGENE project website for more details: http://www.ucd.ie/lipgene/ And we understand that the overall funding for the project as a whole was in excess of 10M. euros - and remember we're talking about just this one project! That money could easily have been spent on less risky and more practical projects to improve human nutrition that would be far more likely to win public acceptance.
Genetically modified crops will be the only sustainable way of solving Britain's dietary shortcomings, scientists claim
Mark Henderson, Science Editor The Times, November 16 2007 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/science/article2879567.ece
Barely one in four British adults consumes close to the recommended quantities of critical omega3 fatty acids found chiefly in oily fish. Genetic engineering is the sole practical means of getting more of them into the food chain without damaging fragile fish stocks, researchers said.
Two long-chain omega3 acids, EPA and DHA, are known to play important roles in health, protecting against heart disease, diabetes and hypertension and promoting the growth of brain cells in the young.
Both acids, however, are produced only by algae and reach the human body through the fish that eat them, or from meat, milk or eggs from animals reared at least partly on fish meal. Raising dietary levels of the nutrients would thus place further pressure on fisheries that are already under threat.
Crops enhanced with genes from algae, however, can make DHA and EPA. These can then be used as feed to boost the quantities found in chicken and other animal products.
Experimental GM linseed and oilseed rape have been produced at Rothamsted Research, in Hertfordshire, which expects to seek regulatory approval for commercial use within three to five years.
In the longer term, it may be possible to produce GM crops with omega3 acids that could be eaten directly, allowing vegetarians to benefit from the nutrients that are usually almost absent from their diets.
Professor Johnathan Napier, who leads the Rothamsted team, said that GM was the only way of making DHA and EPA in crops, because the genes that allow their synthesis existed only in marine micro-algae. 'That’s why we have to take the GM route. There is no alternative,' he said. 'We can’t use mutagenesis or conventional breeding the genes aren’t there in crop plants in the first place.'
While the Government recommends consuming 450mg of the acids daily, average consumption is only 244mg, according to research by the European Union Lipgene project, which is investigating links between nutrition and cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Most people’s intake falls well below even this level, as 70 per cent of British adults never eat oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring and fresh tuna. The problem could be addressed if people were to eat a portion of oily fish each week, through supplements or through chicken and other meat that has been enhanced with DHA and EPA.
In each case, however, the acids would have to come ultimately from wild fish, placing unsustainable pressure on fisheries. Farmed fish are no solution, as they are fed on fish meal and oil that comes from wild sources.
Lipgene research has indicated that people are open to accepting GM technology if it has clear nutritional and environmental benefits.
'There has been a lot of concern and resistance about GM technology in the food chain, but things can change,' said Professor Ian Givens, of the Nutritional Sciences Research Unit at the University of Reading.
'When the issue about sustainability of fish oils becomes clearer and people can see more clearly what the benefits are from this sort of approach, I suspect mindsets will change.'
Professor Judy Buttriss, of the British Nutrition Foundation, said: 'The project has looked at consumer attitudes to GM, and we were quite surprised to see that there was openness when people could see benefits for themselves and their families.'
Professor Napier said: 'There isn’t an alternative to this. The question is, where are you going to source these fatty acids if your only source is in decline and unsustainable. You can’t just be a naysayer.'
Oiling the wheels
”” There are two long-chain, polyunsaturated omega3 fatty acids that play important roles in human health: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
”” Both reach the human food chain only through oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring and fresh tuna. Canned tuna is low in the acids. The fatty acids are created originally by marine algae, which are then eaten by fish
”” Research has established firmly that EPA and DHA protect against conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, which together are known as 'metabolic syndrome'
”” DHA is also involved in brain development, in the formation of nerve cells during the last trimester of pregnancy in the first year of life. Some evidence also suggests that it protects against cognitive decline and dementia in the elderly”” Official recommendations are for adults to consume 450mg of the acids daily, the equivalent of a portion of oily fish once a week. The average intake in Britain is only 244mg, and most people consume much less than this as 70 per cent of the population do not eat oily fish