For the first time in the United Kingdom, genome-edited (GE) crops will be
planted in a field as part of an experimental trial at Rothamsted Research
that aims to investigate genetic engineering's efficiency in developing
plants to yield more nutritious diets more sustainably.
The GE lines of Camelina will be planted in the same field where
Rothamsted's genetically modified (GM) varieties of Camelina plants will be
sown. The GM Camelina is engineered to accumulate omega-3 long chain
polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs), a form of lipid that are also known
as omega-3 fish oils, in their seeds.
While GM plants require approval before they can be planted in the field, GE
varieties do not necessarily. The crucial difference is between mutations
that incorporate DNA from a different species, transgenes, and those that do
not. The GM Camelina incorporates new (algal) genes the GE varieties involve
only changes (losses) in the plant's DNA material. The approved field trial
at Rothamsted comprises 20 strains of Camelina sativa: 17 GM lines, two GE
lines, and one wild-type (control) line.
"These two technologies promise much," says Johnathan Napier, who leads
Rothamsted's Omega-3 Flagship Programme. "The GM plants should yield
superior levels of [LC-PUFAs] EPA and DHA; the GE plants will improve our
understanding of lipid metabolism."