The company, which supplies nutritional oils to the supplements and functional foods industry, originally signed an agreement with SemBioSys relating to safflower as a DHA source in 2003. SemBioSys is using its model plant Arabidopsis to do its proof of concept work and establish 5 per cent DHA expression. Once it has figured out which genes to use on this it will apply the technology to safflower.
But Martek now says that the competitive market supply around DHA supply from different sources means it wants to have the flexibility to pursue the potential from traditional crops as well as specialty ones like safflower.
It has been granted exclusive rights to the outcome of the collaboration, and is entitled to select an alternative seed oil production system that it will be able to tap to meet its future DHA needs.
"We believe the amended agreement provides us with the best outcome given Martek's need for flexibility in such as competitive market," said Andrew Baum, president and CEO of SymBioSys.
Baum told NutraIngredients-USA.com that it is too early to say what the traditional crop may or may not be. This will be no trivial decision and his company will be closely involved in the decision-making process.
It may be that SemBioSys is not the best partner for the other crop, but even if another specialist partner were to develop the potential for this, under the terms of the new agreement SemBioSys is still set to receive remuneration.
SemBioSys will receive $500,000 milestone payment on expression in a commercial crop by Martek's partner - that is, on top of the royalty on gross margin of DHA-rich plant oil product sales, the immediate $750,000 license fee, and an additional payment of $250,000 upon delivery of seed and completion of the Arabidopsis development work by June 28 2007.
A further bonus for SymBioSys is that the original agreement with Martek included EPA and ARA from safflower as well, but it is now free to offer these to other products to other partners.
Martek's present DHA offering is derived from microalgae. There is increasing interest in omega-3 from non-fish sources as a result of fears over potential contaminants and fish stocks.
While the relationship between both issues and fish-derived oil is still a matter of debate, industry is aware that the present scenario may not sustain for the future, and a number of players are putting in steps in case this comes to pass.
However traditional vegetarian sources of omega-3 yield shorter chain fatty acids, which lose a portion of their health benefits for humans when they are converted into DHA and EPA by the body.