Research making headlines includes a genetically modified (GM) oilseed taking on fish oil, and the effects of prebiotic fiber on healthy and below-optimal health individuals.
Could Fatty Acids from GM Oilseed Crops Replace Fish Oil?
According to research from the U.K.’s University of East Anglia (UEA) published in The Journal of Nutrition, oil from GM oilseed crops showed promise as a potential source of the beneficial omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
In “Oil from transgenic Camelina sativa effectively replaces fish oil as a dietary source of EPA in mice," researchers studied the effect in mice of consuming feed enriched with oil from glasshouse-grown genetically engineered Camelina sativa, developed at the agricultural science centre Rothamsted Research. The goal was to discover whether mammals (using mice as a model) can absorb and accumulate EPA from the novel source of omega-3s.
The team examined levels of EPA in various organs in the body such as the liver, as well as its effect on the expression of genes key for regulating the way the body processes fats. The results indicated the benefits were similar to those derived from fish oils.
According to lead researcher professor Anne-Marie Minihane, Ph.D., from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, “For everyone in the world to achieve their minimum dietary intake [of EPA], you would need around 1.3 million metric tonnes of EPA per year. Fish currently provide around 40 percent of the required amount—so there is a large deficit between supply and demand."
She pointed to the need to identify alternative sustainable sources, stating, “We wanted to test whether oil from genetically modified plants could be used as a substitute. This first study indicates that mammals can efficiently accumulate the key health-beneficial omega-3 fatty acid EPA."
The research team studied mice which had been fed with EPA oil from genetically engineered Camelina sativa, commonly known as false flax, but actually a member of the Brassicaceae family. Crops were grown in glasshouses at the primarily publically-funded Rothamsted Research.
The researchers looked to see whether consuming oil from the engineered plants was as beneficial as EPA-rich fish oil. They did this by testing tissue concentrations of fatty acids in liver, muscle and brain tissue, along with the expression of genes involved in regulating EPA status and its physiological benefits.
“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," Minihane said. “We found that the genetically engineered oil is a bioavailable source of EPA, with comparable benefits for the liver to eating oily fish."
The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) as part of an ongoing research program to examine the sources and sustainability of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as their impact on health and risk of chronic disease. The novel Camelina oil used was produced as part of the BBSRC-funded Designing Seeds Institute Strategic Programme Grant to Rothamsted Research.
The study was reviewed and approved by the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body (AWERB) and was conducted within the provisions of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) act 1986.
Prebiotic Fiber Improves Beneficial Gut Flora
A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study conducted by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and published in the Frontiers of Physiology indicated daily doses as low as 1 g of PreticX®, a XOS (xylooligosaccharide), significantly modified gut microbiota, helping to grow more species of good gut bacteria and reduce bad bacteria in both healthy people, and those who are overweight with unhealthy blood glucose levels.
According to Jennifer Gu, Ph.D., AIDP’s vice president of research and development (R&D), people who have abnormal glucose levels showed a different gut microbial population as compared to normal people. PreticX significantly modified gut microbiota in both healthy and overweight subjects, and resulted in dramatic shifts of four bacterial taxa (populations of organisms) associated with people who had abnormal glucose levels.
“Advancing scientific research continues to demonstrate that balanced gut microbiota is essential for digestive function, and that an unhealthy balance in the gut is a precursor to digestive issues and immune dysfunction," Gu said.
According to Gu, the prebiotic PreticX is a non-genetically modified organism (GMO) ingredient with GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status. It’s suited for use in supplements and food products. AIDP had no financial interest and did not participate in the Frontiers of Physiology study.