Scientists have received the go-ahead to grow a field trial of genetically modified (GM) Camelina oilseed plants.
The trial will test whether GM Camelina sativa plants can make significant quantities of omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids and astaxanthin under field conditions.
Rothamsted Research applied to Defra earlier this year for permission to carry out the GM field trial in 2016 and 2017 at its farm at Harpenden, Hertfordshire.
Rothamsted scientists have previously undertaken field trials of GM Camelina plants that accumulate omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in their seeds.
A first year of trials in 2015 was described as a “major breakthrough” by researchers who hope to produce a crop plant engineered to produce high levels of health-boosting omega-3s.
Scientists have developed plants that can also accumulate astaxanthin, a pigment commonly used as a feed additive in aquaculture.
The trial is part of the ongoing strategic programme of research at Rothamsted.
Omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids have been shown to be beneficial for human health and contribute to protection against coronary heart diseases.
We are very pleased to have been granted permission by Defra to carry out the proposed controlled experiment in the field Johnathan Napier, Rothamsted
The primary dietary source of these fatty acids is fish, which accumulate them through their diet in the wild or through fishmeal and fish oil when farmed.
Scientists believe a GM crop plant could produce the fatty acid more sustainably.
Rothamsted lead scientist Johnathan Napier said: “We are very pleased to have been granted permission by Defra to carry out the proposed controlled experiment in the field.”
The controlled experiment will see Camelina seeds sown next month and the plants will then be harvested in August or September.
A small amount of seed will be used to analyse the oil content, with the rest of the seed and plant material destroyed according to the consent’s conditions.
The government’s Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment said it was satisfied all scientific issues raised by the public in relation to the application had been addressed.