Rothamsted granted permission for GM field trial

Defra has granted Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire permission to conduct field trials of genetically modified (GM) brassica crop this year and next.

Image: HW
Image: HW

Researchers there have previously field-trialed Camelina sativa (false flax) plants that accumulate omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) in their seeds and now want to combine this with the capacity to accumulate astaxanthin, a carotenoid pigment with antioxidant properties that is commonly used as a feed additive in fish farming, giving salmon its characteristic pink colour.

Rothamsted Research scientists and colleagues in the USA have already tested in the laboratory and in glasshouses whether GM plants can produce both omega-3 LC-PUFAs and astaxanthin, giving an optimal crop for sustainable fish production.

The controlled experiment will begin next month, with plants harvested in August/September. The oil content of small amount of seed will then be analysed, with the rest of the seed and plant material destroyed according to the consent's conditions. It will be regularly inspected by the government's GM inspectorate.

But the campaigning group GM Freeze has said a Canadian study published last month shows the modified oils cause wing deformities in cabbage white butterflies. It's director Liz O'Neill said: "We have no idea why the omega-3 oils harmed the butterflies and until we do know, we shouldn't be genetically engineering plants to produce them."

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