Scientists with Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) have developed plants that produce DHA, an omega-3 oil vital for human health and normally only found in fish sources.
CSIRO Food Futures flagship director Dr. Bruce Lee said the ability to breed plants that produced DHA in their seeds was a "remarkable scientific feat."
"It is an important first step toward improving human nutrition, reducing pressure on declining fish resources worldwide and providing Australian grain growers with new high-value crops," Lee said.
DHA and other long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are made by lower plant forms, like microalgae, which then are acquired by fish through the food chain.
However, more-advanced plants that grow on land cannot produce them.
CSIRO Food Futures advanced genetics leader Dr. Allan Green said the prototype plants showed for the first time that "land plants can indeed make their own DHA and other important long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, when we equip them with the required genes."
DHA is vital for optimal brain and eye development and is recognized for its health attributes, including lowering coronary heart disease risk, type two diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and asthma.
Nutritional authorities recommend a daily intake of at least 500mg of long-chain omega-3. Yet dietary surveys show that most Australians consume only a tenth of this amount.
To increase intake, many foods are now supplemented with omega-3 oils from fish, but with declining natural fish stocks, and aquaculture's current reliance on fish-based feeds, additional sources of long-chain omega-3 oils are needed.
Green said commercially available omega-3 enriched crops might be some years away, "but they would enable the average Australian to obtain healthier levels of DHA through a wider choice of foods."