While the health benefits of diet rich in unsaturated fatty acids, particularly very long chain omega-3 fatty acids, has long been recognized, developing sustainable and affordable sources of such health-promoting oils is a growing challenge. Currently, fish oil accounts for the majority of the global supply of very long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA), including the important omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); however, increasing demand for fish oil (largely to support a burgeoning aquaculture industry) jeopardizes the sustainability of the world’s harvest fisheries.
Many seed oils, including canola and flax, contain high quantities of the metabolic precursors to LC-PUFA, making them an ideal starting point for the development of a land-based source of LC-PUFA and other bioactive polyunsaturated fatty acids. Over the past decade, considerable progress has been made toward engineering higher plants to produce these unusual fatty acids, and commercially-viable levels of some of these fatty acids are now within reach.
Phytola is currently working on a number projects related to the development of crop-based platforms for the production of bioactive oils. Through rigorous efforts to identify novel enzymes and characterize their unique substrate selectivities, we have been successful in engineering pathways leading to the accumulation of several bioactive polyunsaturated fatty acids with a range of potential applications – from new animal feed supplements, to cosmetics and nutraceuticals.
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