Rothamsted Research is seeking approval for a field trial of GM plants that produce omega-3 oils.

Scientists have developed false flax (Camelina sativa) plants – oilseed-producing plants that accumulate high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their seeds.

They have demonstrated that these plants produce the right profile of these fatty acids in significant amounts when grown in greenhouses. Now they want to evaluate the performance of this trait in the field and have applied to DEFRA for permission.

Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fats found naturally in oily fish, nuts, seeds and leafy green vegetables. They are associated with many health benefits including prevention of heart disease and stroke.

Professor Johnathan Napier, associate director at Rothamsted Research, said the GM plants he helped to produce represented a “sustainable, terrestrial source of fish oils, which is really exciting”.

“One of the problems with the current supplies of fish oils is that fish stocks are a diminishing natural resource,” Prof Napier told BBC Radio 4’s Inside Science programme.

“What we’re trying to do here is provide an alternative, sustainable source of fish oils.”

If approved, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) will publicly fund the experiment. An open public consultation on this work has now begun.

A DEFRA spokesman said: “Ministers will decide in due course whether this trial should be approved based on the expert scientific advice they receive from the independent Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment.

“It will advise on the potential risks to human health and the environment, and in doing so will take account of any relevant points made in public representations to DEFRA.”

Rothamsted is evaluating the results of spring-sown GM wheat trials , which finished last autumn.

Rothamsted applies for field trial for GM fish oil plants