New opportunity with DHA canola

Harvesting a Nuseed Omega-3 DHA canola trial.
Harvesting a Nuseed Omega-3 DHA canola trial.

A new strain of canola that's been genetically modified to boost its omega-3 oil content has been approved for commercial release in Australia.

According to the Gene Technology Regulator the GM canola from Nuseed, contains seven introduced genes involved in fatty acid biosynthesis. 

“The seven genes are sourced from yeast and marine microalgae and encode enzymes that help the GM canola accumulate a high proportion of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) relative to other fatty acids in the seed oil,” the report states.

“Long chain fatty acids such as DHA, which are widely used as a human dietary supplement, are normally sourced from wild-caught fish oils and algal oils.”

The strain, developed in collaboration with the CSIRO and the GRDC, also contains a “selectable marker gene from a soil bacterium that confers tolerance to glufosinate herbicide”.

Nuseed Australia general manager Travis Rankin said the plan was to commercialise mega-3 oil for aquaculture feed uses, before it’s developed for human supplements and products.

In the future there could be huge potential for a value added crop for northern growers, but for the moment trial areas and growing to extend seed is likely to take place in southern NSW and northern Victoria.

“The reality will probably be selecting areas in proximity crushing plants which is predominantly in southern NSW and northern Victoria at this point, but nothing’s final,” Mr Rankin said.

Nuseed Australia general manager Travis Rankin.

Nuseed Australia general manager Travis Rankin.

“There’s certainly scope for Australian growers to participate in this project. We need some risk diversification so we will spread across regions.”

It’s a world first in approval for a plant based source of omega-3.

“It’s a result of an eight year collaboration with Nuseed as the commercial and R and D partner of CSIRO and GRDC.”

Currently the approval enables Nuseed to progress with larger scale commercial trials and accelerate trials in Australia.

“With trials we are looking for agronomic fit in particular regions, which is quite exciting for us,” Mr Rankin said. 

“That really follows the coat tails of what we are doing in the US it enables us to significantly upscale in the US and start producing more meaningful quantities to start supplying and satisfying some of our markets.”

He said for growers the omega-3 canola will add value over and above yield.

“We estimate there will be significant value for growers, over and above the value of canola,” Mr Rankin said.

“It will be a closed loop program, which means growers will be contracted with Nuseed to produce long-chain omega-3 oil and then we ensure there’s a strong market available for it at the end.”

It is anticipated that one hectare of Nuseed’s omega-3 canola has the potential to provide the omega-3 yield equivalent to 10,000kg of wild-caught fish.

“There's a sustainable cap of ocean harvested fish there's about 900,000 tonnes of oil in that sustainable cap,” Mr Rankin said.

“We see ourselves as an alternate, sustainable, land-based supplier of long-chain omega-3s which is a really nice fit to help supply the increasing demand.”

Mr Rankin said demand for long-chain omega-3s was high.

“[From] nutraceutical companies – supplements – and there’s also increasing demand in the pharmaceutical market,” he said.

“Our primary focus will be the aquaculture market, ensuring fish get sufficient supplies of omega-3s in aqua feed.”

The Gene Technology Regulator received only one submission from the public during the consultation period.

The Risk Assessment and Risk Management Plan indicated commercial release posed negligible risks to people and the environment and did not require specific risk treatment measures. However, general licence conditions have been imposed to ensure “ongoing oversight of the release”.


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