In a world first CSIRO Food Futures Flagship has developed plants that produce DHA, a healthy omega-3 oil component normally only available from fish sources, and vital for human health.
“Showing that plants can produce DHA in their seeds is a remarkable scientific feat,” says Dr Bruce Lee, Director of the CSIRO Food Futures Flagship responsible for the project.
“It is an important first step towards improving human nutrition, reducing pressure on declining fish resources worldwide and providing Australian grain growers with new high-value crops.”
DHA and other long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are made by lower plant forms, like microalgae, which are then acquired by fish through the food chain, but more advanced plants that grow on land cannot produce them.
“The prototype plants we developed show for the first time that land plants can indeed make their own DHA and other important long-chain omega-3 fatty acids when we equip them with the required genes,” says research team leader of Food Futures Advanced Genetics, Dr Allan Green.
DHA is vital for optimal brain and eye development and is recognised for its health attributes including; lowering coronary heart disease risk, Type-2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and asthma.
Nutritional authorities recommend a daily intake of at least 500mg of long-chain omega-3 including DHA, yet dietary surveys show that most Australians consume only a tenth of this amount.
To increase intake, many foods are now supplemented 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.
“Commercially available omega-3 enriched crop plants may be some years away, but they would enable the average Australian to obtain healthier levels of DHA through a wider choice of foods,” says Dr Green.
Dr Lee says that this discovery is an example of the successful collaboration of multi-disciplinary science drawing together CSIRO’s expertise across the different CSIRO divisions of Plant Industry, Marine Research, Health Sciences & Nutrition, Entomology, Livestock Industries, and Food Science Australia (a joint venture of CSIRO and the Victorian Government).