Monsanto, Solae joint forces for omega-3 from GM soy

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Fatty acid Omega-3 fatty acid

Monsanto and The Solae Company have announced a collaboration over
the development of omega-3 from genetically-modified soy beans,
which could speed up the availability of the healthy ingredient
from new non-marine sources.

Monsanto and Solae (with its majority owner DuPont), have each been independently conducting research on soy beans containing high levels of omega-3.

By pooling their efforts, the two companies look set to steal a march in the competitive field of obtaining omega-3 - including longer chain variants - from plants.

The companies are not committing to a time-line for the introduction of the first fruits of the collaboration, but the spokesperson told that it is fair to expect it within the next five years.

The technology involves genetic modification of soy seeds.

However Solae says this is the first time that genetic modification has been used with the end of delivering health benefits to consumers.

In the past, the goal has been to deliver benefits to farmers in the form of increased yields or disease resistance.

Consumer awareness of the health benefits of omega-3 has sky-rocketed in recent years as the scientific evidence stacks up.

Industry experts predict that the market for omega-3 products could be worth as much as $7bn by 2011.

But concerns over the sustainability of fish sources, as well as the amount of fish oil available to the nutrition industry as demand for crude fish oil from the aquaculture industry increases.

The problem with plant sources like flax, however, is that they yield up ALA, a shorter chain fatty acid which is less bioavailable for humans than DHA and EPA, of which fish is the best source.

This was the spur for Monsanto and Solae/Dupont to embark on their respective R&D projects; BASF has also been investigating the field.

Solae and Monsanto are not specifying the kind of omega-3 that will be contained in their ingredients, since the technology is not limited to just one kind and combinations are possible.

However a spokesperson did confirm that there is the possibility for longer chain fatty acids such as DHA and EPA.

The decision over the types will be customer-driven.

"Soy beans represent a renewable, land-based source of omega-3s," said Jerry Steiner, EVP of Monsanto.

While the majority of the ingredients will be the product of a genetically modified (GM) seed, some will not.

Moreover, since soy bean oil does not actually have any genes in it, there is some debate about whether soy oil from a GM plant would necessarily be considered GM in its own right.

"This collaboration is fairly specific to soy beans, but not necessarily specific to that," said the Solae spokesperson.

The companies are not disclosing the business details of the arrangement, but in terms of workability Solae, whose core competencies are in stabilisation and working with food customers, will take the marketing lead.

Monsanto's expertise lies more on the seed and biotech side.

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