Omega 3 fatty acids may be the one type of fat no one should be cutting down on. The body needs fatty acids to function, and they’ve also been lauded as bringing an array of health benefits, reducing the risk of heart disease, depression, and asthma, among other things. Fish oil is the most popular source of Omega 3 fatty acid EPA, but oil from genetically modified (GM) oil seed crops may be capable of replacing fish oils as a primary source of fatty acids.

A team of researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) took a look at mice consuming feed enriched with oil from a genetically engineered Camelina sativa to discover if mammals (using mice as a model) could absorb and accumulate EPA from this source of omega-3s. The Camelina sativa, commonly known as false flax, was greenhouse-grown at the agricultural science center Rothamsted Research. The team tested tissue concentrations of fatty acids in liver, brain, and muscle tissue of the mice, along with the expression of genes associated with regulating EPA status.

“The mice were fed with a control diet similar to a Westernized human diet, along with supplements of EPA from genetically engineered Camelina sativa or fish oil, for 10 weeks — enough time for any beneficial results to be seen,” said Professor Anne-Marie Minihane, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, in a statement. “We found that the genetically engineered oil is a bioavailable source of EPA, with comparable benefits for the liver to eating oily fish.”

The recommended minimum dietary intake for EPAs can be achieved by eating about one to two portions of oily fish per week, according to Minihane. She said that while fatty acids are beneficial to cognitive, cardiovascular, and fetal health, there is a large deficit between supply and demand.

“For everyone in the world to achieve their minimum intake, you would need around 1.3 million metric tonnes of EPA per year,” she explained. “Fish currently provide around 40 percent of the required amount. … There is a great need to identify alternative and sustainable sources of these beneficial fatty acids.”

Though the researchers identified that modified plants may have the potential to fill this deficit, more research needs to be done to identify any possible effects on humans.

Source: Tejera N, Vauzour D, Betanocor M, Sayanova O, Usher S, Cochard M, et al. A transgenic Camelina sativa seed oil effectively replaces fish oil as a dietary source of EPA in mice. The Journal of Nutrition. 2016.