A new variety of plant has been engineered to help preserve stocks of wild fish and boost our levels of omega-3

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Image: Is this crop a safe alternative to fish oil? Scientists think so

Photograph: Jonathan Gregson

In a sea of hipster health food newbies (yes, we’re looking at you chia seeds, bone broth and coconut oil), fish oil has long been touted as having benefits, especially for keeping your ticker healthy.


Although it's known as fish oil, omega-3 is actually produced by plants such as marine algae which the fish eat or aborb in the wild. Farmed fish, however, are not exposed to these plants and instead have to be fed on smaller fish which do contain the substance. This practice has led to sustainability concerns because the smaller fish have to be taken from the wild.


Now, British scientists have genetically engineered a plant called camelina to contain high levels of omega-3 – and they have declared it a safe and sustainable alternative to fish oil in the diets of farmed fish.


Dr Monica Betancor, who carried out the research at the University of Stirling, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports, said: “At the end of the experiment we examined fish from the different treatments and found that the oil derived from the GM plants can effectively substitute for fish oil in salmon feeds.


“This is highly significant because fish oil is a finite and limited resource, very expensive and the increasing demands for it by the fish farming industry will not be met in the future.


“So we really need to develop effective alternatives like this one.”

While this is still in the research phase, scientists hope the oils extracted from GM plants could replace oil from fish in salmon farming.


Professor Douglas Tocher, who led the study, added: “The development of these novel plant oils, tailored to human requirements, represent a sustainable way to farm fish with high levels of omega-3 fish oils that maintain their high nutritional value to the human consumer while preserving wild fish stocks.”

Up your fish quota with this lemony salmon with crispy potato and spinach recipe, salmon pho, or salmon, rocket and red onion sandwich