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BASF and Cargill partner on ambitious €150m GM plant omega-3 project

By Shane Starling , 02-Nov-2011
Last updated on 02-Nov-2011 at 17:20 GMT

Multinational ingredient giants BASF and Cargill have teamed on a project that will see them spend €100m on an ambitious project to bring genetically modified canola oil rich in omega-3 forms EPA and DHA to market by 2020.

The alliance follows at least five years research and a €50m investment by BASF Plant Science into the potential of GM canola to deliver commercially viable levels of DHA and EPA that can compete with marine and algal sources.

Andy Beadle, BASF polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) project leader at BASF Plant Science, told NutraIngredients the lab results were so promising that bringing a partner onboard with canola commercialisation knowhow like Cargill represented a, “beautifully complimentary skillset”.

“Cargill brings knowledge and expertise in commercial production of canola as well as plant breeding, oil stablisation and processing,” Beadle said. “They also have a lot of skills in bringing canola to a range of foods and drinks. We have a lot of plant enhancement skills at BASF so it is a beautifully complimentary skillset.”

He said the ‘end-of-the-decade’ timeframe in bringing a high-yield DHA-EPA ingredient to market was more regulatory than scientific as BASF had progressed a long way using techniques like inserting algae genes into canola to boost yields.

“We are still working on different varieties of canola but we need to get all this through the regulatory systems,” he said. “Detailed experiments need to be performed and then dossiers compiled and submitted and this can take a long time.”

In a statement, Jenny Verner, president, Cargill Specialty Canola Oils, said: “By addressing stability and cost, we are confident that EPA/DHA canola oil will be embraced by food, pharmaceutical and nutritional supplement manufacturers globally.”

Race to plant-sourced EPA-DHA

There is a race of sorts going on to be the first on-market with a plant-sourced, high-yield DHA-EPA version with Dow Agrosciences working with Martek BioSciences (DSM), also on canola. Monsanto has been working with soy plants to determine their omega-3 potential, particularly with stearidonic acid (SDA).

The interest is multifactorial with the attraction of a vegetarian source; potentially lower input and environmental costs and the lure of approved EPA-DHA health claims in many jurisdictions for brain and heart health.

The typical omega-3 output from plants at the moment is ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a short-chain omega-3 that converts to DHA and EPA in the body, but at low, some would argue, negligible rates.

Research suggests ALA does have benefits of its own though, such as battling chronic inflammation.

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