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Study looks at safety of GM omega-3 canola

The Institute of Agriculture has collaborated with international researchers to develop a road map to fast-forward breeding for crop improvement.
Photo: ABCA

Scientists from Australia and the US have had a study published on the food and feed safety of genetically modified omega-3 canola, revealing its safety for use in human foods, nutraceuticals and animal feeds.

Published in the Frontiers of Nutrition journal, the study shows results that bring the GM canola a step closer to being part of a solution to alleviate the high pressure in marine resources for the production of omega-3 fatty acids.

Nuseed’s omega-3 (or DHA) canola is the world’s first plant-based source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, developed in collaboration with CSIRO and GRDC. Derived from its oil are Aquaterra® for aquafeed and Nutriterra® for human nutrition. Both are proprietary ingredients that provide a sustainable land-based source of the omega-3 essential nutrient as an alternative to fish oil. This helps reduce pressure on wild fish stocks, the most common source of omega-3.

Commercial release approvals for this GM canola were issued by Australia’s Office of the Gene Technology Regulator and the US Department of Agriculture in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Global food security boost from fast-tracked breeding

The University of Western Australia’s Institute of Agriculture has collaborated with international researchers to develop a road map to fast-forward breeding for crop improvement and rapid delivery systems for a more food-secure world.

The world population of 7.8 billion is predicted to reach 10 billion by 2057, and future access to affordable and healthy food will be challenging, with malnutrition already affecting one in three people worldwide.

Two papers, recently published in Trends in Genetics and Nature Biotechnology, were the result of a Perth-based workshop organised by the Institute of Agriculture and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). The papers recognise that global crop production systems need to expand their outputs sustainably to feed this rapidly growing human population.

“Realising desired productivity gains in the field is imperative for securing an adequate future food supply for 10 billion people,” says Institute of Agriculture director Professor Kadambot Siddique.

We need to establish and deploy rapid delivery systems to ensure farmers can access high-quality seeds and appropriate agronomy packages.

ICRISAT accelerated crop improvement research program director Professor Rajeev Varshney says increasing adoption of machine learning algorithms will provide valuable data about the genetic basis and molecular mechanisms of crops.

“This improved understanding is crucial to develop varieties faster,” Professor Varshney says.

According to the Institute of Agriculture, the fast-forward breeding framework provides a strategy for integrating advanced technology in crop genome sequencing, phenotyping and systems biology, together with efficient trait mapping procedures and genomic prediction (including machine learning and artificial intelligence).

Further, adopting seed input supply systems and new production and harvesting technologies will help achieve sustainable food security in the developing world, generate increased incomes for farmers and deliver better products to consumers.

UK Government to move ahead with gene editing

The UK Government has announced its plans to unlock the power of gene editing to help growers grow more resistant, more nutritious and more productive crops that can help better protect the environment.

According to a media statement, leaving the EU allows the UK to set its own rules, opening up opportunities to adopt a more scientific and proportionate approach to the regulation of genetic technologies. As a first step, the government will change the rules relating to gene editing to cut red tape and make research and development easier.

“Gene editing has the ability to harness the genetic resources that nature has provided. It is a tool that could help us in order to tackle some of the biggest challenges that we face – around food security, climate change and biodiversity loss,” says environment secretary George Eustice.

“Outside the EU, we are able to foster innovation to help grow plants that are stronger and more resilient to climate change. We will be working closely with farming and environmental groups to ensure that the right rules are in place,” he says.

British Society of Plant Breeders chief executive Samantha Brooke says: “Changing the way new agricultural breeding technologies are regulated, by taking gene editing out of the scope of GMO rules, will encourage research and innovation to develop healthier, more nutritious food, and to make farming systems more sustainable and resilient in the face of climate change.”

Gene editing information resources launched

The International Seed Federation has released a series of fact sheets on gene editing, developed in conjunction with the American Seed Trade Association, CropLife International and Euroseeds. The resources are based on scientifically validated, peer-reviewed articles and cover the topics of:

  • gene editing is plant breeding;
  • gene editing delivers more predictable food quality and security;
  • leveraging science for a better agriculture; and
  • gene editing promotes expanded involvement and more choices.

More information: Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia

The Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia is an industry initiative established to increase public awareness of, and encourage informed debate and decision-making about, gene technology.

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