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Nuseed: Sustainable long-chain Omega-3 canola closer to realityqrcode

Feb. 23, 2017

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Feb. 23, 2017
In 2011, a research collaboration was formed between Nuseed (a wholly owned subsidiary of Nufarm Limited), the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) to develop canola which can produce long-chain omega-3 oil to help address the looming shortfall in availability of this critical nutrient.

As more people around the world directly or indirectly consume long-chain omega-3 DHA and EPA, which are essential for human health, a sustainable solution is needed to take pressure off wild forage fish stocks critical to the marine ecosystem.

The Australian collaboration team recently reached a significant milestone when they completed field trials that achieved target DHA and EPA levels in canola.

The project uses advanced technologies for genetic improvement to transfer plant genes (from microalgae) to another plant – canola – to deliver long-chain omega-3 rich oil, similar to that found in fish.

Australia grows more than 2 million hectares of canola per year, which produces more than 3 million tonnes of seed. It is a crop familiar to many Australian farmers and performs well in key growing regions throughout Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. This good agronomic understanding of canola and its already high oil production made it the ideal plant candidate for this project.

If the innovation proves successful, it is estimated that one hectare of this canola has the potential to deliver the equivalent amount of long-chain omega-3 that can be extracted from 10,000 one-kilogram wild fish.

Why sustainable long-chain omega-3 is important

Finding a sustainable land-based supply solution for long-chain omega-3 oils has been a long term goal of the scientific team at the CSIRO; it was clear that likely future demand for these healthy oils would outstrip existing supply sources, and the ability to provide a sustainable supply option would help solve this problem.

The benefits of long-chain omega-3 in human health are well documented, playing an important role in heart and brain health, child and infant development, inflammation management and other health functions.

Demand for long-chain omega-3 oil is driven by supplements and fortified foods for human consumption and feed additives in industries like aquaculture. Health-conscious individuals around the world are demanding more food and products rich in DHA and EPA as awareness of the health benefits increases. World demand for long-chain omega-3 oils is also increasing as continued research further validates its positive effects in human diets.

These healthy oils typically originate in ocean microalgae. Fish consume the microalgae-derived oils via their food-chain and the long-chain omega-3 oils accumulate in their flesh.

It is projected that demand for healthy long-chain omega-3 oils will exceed the production that can be sustainably supplied by wild fish stocks. Using an alternative land-based source of the oil will be critical to help maintain a balanced marine environment while ensuring an adequate supply to meet ever-increasing demand.

Next steps

The CSIRO first started to investigate the potential for plant crops to produce long-chain omega-3 oils in the late 1990s, with early ‘proof of concept’ achieved around 2005. In 2011, a three-way collaboration between the CSIRO, Nuseed and the GRDC was formed to develop the project to a commercial outcome.

Nuseed is leading the commercialisation of this omega-3 canola and providing investment and technical, regulatory and breeding expertise.

CSIRO, through its Agriculture & Food division, is providing investment, the technical and scientific knowledge underpinning the biosynthesis of long-chain omega-3s and developing novel omega-3 canola plants; and the GRDC is providing investment to the collaboration.

The collaboration is now conducting pre-regulatory field and laboratory performance trials.

These trials are carefully monitored and controlled in line with federal regulatory requirements. Material generated in the trials will not enter feed or food chains.

Currently, the collaboration aims to have seed available for commercial production by 2018-2019, provided key development milestones are achieved and the required regulatory approvals are obtained.

With decades of experience breeding and marketing canola, Nuseed’s expertise is a critical part of ensuring that this new canola performs in the paddock and meets the needs of end markets. As Australia’s leading canola company, the Nuseed team members bring the best international knowledge and technical proficiency to the project.

As with all new and novel technical approaches, a big part of the experience is learning and making sure this knowledge is used to inform the decisions and actions of the team.

While it is a long-term process to take this long-chain omega-3 canola from concept to market, the team continues to meet milestones and is pleased with progress towards commercialisation.

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