Oilseeds of the future: Part 2

By Catherine Watkins

In This Section

June 2009

inform's examination of some of the trait-modified oilseeds currently in research and development pipelines around the world continues with this month's look at work in cottonseed, flax, and oil palm.

COTTONSEED (Gossypium)

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Canberra, Australia

What: Canola and cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) plants engineered to produce oil containing eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) fatty acids, the omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA) found in cold-water fish and algal oils.

How: Genetic modification: Food Futures National Research Flagship researchers have taken key LC-PUFA genes from marine microalgae, a form of lower plant, and transferred them to land plants. "In a world first, the team was able to demonstrate synthesis of the key nutritionally active omega-3 LC-PUFA, EPA and DHA, in the seed oil of the model oilseed plant Arabidopsis thaliana," CSIRO's Surinder Singh explains. Following this key breakthrough, the team has been working to transfer an optimized group of microalgal omega-3 LC-PUFA encoding genes into canola and cotton.

Benefits: The primary sources of omega-3 LC-PUFA in the human diet are fish and marine algae. Two trends indicate that there is an urgent need for novel sources of omega-3 LC-PUFA in the diet. First, the awareness of the need to increase one's intake of omega-3 LC-PUFA is growing among consumers, health professionals, and the food industry, leading to a steadily increasing demand. Second, fish-derived sources of omega-3 LC-PUFA are under pressure because of the need to conserve and manage marine ecosystems. "Algal sources of omega-3 LC-PUFA are very expensive and unlikely to supply the expected demand," Singh suggests.

Canola or cottonseed oil containing EPA and DHA can revolutionize the ability of agrifood industries to deliver the nutritional benefits of LC-PUFA. For example, this type of oil can be used directly to produce omega-3-enriched margarines, fish and animal feeds, as an ingredient in other processed foods, as a nutritional supplement (such as in infant formula), and in specialized nutraceutical applications and will go a long way in meeting the projected worldwide increase in demand for omega-3 LC-PUFA.

When: The technology has progressed beyond proof-of-concept stage. Commercial production of omega-3 LC-PUFA canola and/or cottonseed is targeted to begin in 2015.

Samples: Samples are not available currently. No date has been set for their availability.

Contact: Surinder Singh, group leader, Oilseeds Group (surinder.singh@csiro.au ).

CSIRO, Canberra, Australia

What: High-oleic cottonseed (Gossypium hirsutum) that is also low in saturates and cyclopropenoic fatty acids (CPFA).

How: Genetic modification involving silencing of endogenous fatty acid biosynthetic genes and introduction of novel fatty acid biosynthesis genes. In cottonseed, RNAi-mediated gene silencing has been used to down-regulate the synthesis of palmitic acid, CPFA, and PUFA, resulting in an oil that is highly enriched for oleic acid and reduced in nutritionally undesirable saturates and CPFA.

Benefits: The high-oleic cottonseed oil has greatly enhanced oxidative stability and improved nutritional value. It could replace hydrogenated oils in food service frying applications, thereby avoiding use of oils with trans fatty acids, and may open up the possibility of a retail bottled cottonseed oil for household use. This development will also provide additional crop production opportunities and potentially higher value for oilseed growers.

When: High-oleic cottonseed is undergoing product evaluation as a prelude to a decision to develop commercial varieties. It could be brought to market within five to seven years.

Samples: Will be available for evaluation within a year.

Contact: Allan Green, program leader of the Metabolic Engineering of New Plant Products team (Allan.Green@csiro.au ).

Southern Plains Agricultural Research Center (SPARC), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), US Department of Agriculture (USDA), College Station, Texas, USA

What: "Cottonseed provides a high-quality protein that currently is underutilized because of the presence of the toxic compound called gossypol," Robert Stipanovic of SPARC writes. Gossypol occurs in the plant as enantiomers. The enantiomeric ratio in commercial cottons is approximately three parts (+)-gossypol and two parts (-)-gossypol. (-)-Gossypol is toxic to nonruminant animals, but (+)-gossypol is not toxic. Cottonseed with a (+)- to (-)-gossypol ratio that is >9:1 can be safely fed to poultry, and by extension to other nonruminants such as swine and fish. The Brazilian "moco" cotton cultivars (G. hirsutum var. marie galante) exhibit ratios of (+)- to (-)-gossypol as high as 98:2. Moco cotton does not produce bolls until the second year and thus is grown as a perennial in Brazil. Using traditional breeding techniques, SPARC incorporated this high (+)-gossypol seed trait into cotton plants with fiber quality and yields that are comparable to commercial cotton varieties.

Benefits: This high (+)-gossypol seed could be used to partially replace poultry feeds such as corn that are currently being diverted for gasohol production.

When: SPARC has completed two years of field testing of some lines that produce ~95% (+)-gossypol in seed. "We plan to do a germplasm release in 2010 and hope oil will be available for use by the food industry in 2012," Stipanek notes.

Samples: Available with germplasm release in 2010.

Contact: Alois A. Bell, research plant pathologist (al.bell@ars.usda.gov ).

Southern Regional Research Center (SRRC), ARS, USDA, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

What: Michael K. Dowd of SRRC reports that ARS scientists are conducting preliminary work to study what variation in fatty acid compositional properties might be bred into cottonseed. "As a first step, the roughly 9,000 available accessions in the US GRIN Cotton Collection are being screened for fatty acid composition. Traits of interest include reducing the cyclopropenoid fatty acid content, reducing the proportion of saturated fatty acids, and increasing the ratio of oleic to linoleic acids," he notes. Researchers are also studying the variation in current agronomic cotton cultivars and the effect of environment on cottonseed fatty acid composition. "Of course, these efforts must not negatively affect cotton fiber properties, which makes this effort more difficult than similar efforts in other oilseeds," he notes.

How: Work is preliminary to see what variation in fatty acids exists in cotton germplasm. If traits of interest are found, breeding strategies will then be developed.

Contact: Michael K. Dowd (Michael.Dowd@ars.usda.gov ).

FLAX (Linum usitatissimum)

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Morden, Manitoba, Canada

What: "The traits that are of prime importance to our breeding program are yield and lodging resistance; oil, a-linolenic acid, and protein content; as well as disease resistance to fusarium wilt, rust resistance, and powdery mildew," notes Scott Duguid of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. "In the case of the seed quality traits, we have increased the oil content of flax up to 50% on a dry basis and a-linolenic acid up to 59-60%, and improved protein content in the meal in the range of 47-49%," he reports.

How: Conventional breeding.

Benefits: By increasing the overall oil and a-linolenic acid content of flax, consumers will benefit from a more healthful oil and increased a-linolenic acid in the seed and/or ground seed. In addition, flax oil and/or seed likely will be utilized in more food products. Increased utilization of the seed and meal of flax in cattle, swine, and poultry feeds also is likely. "This should provide new opportunities for oilseed processors not only to increase the amount of oil available as a result of increased oil and improved a-linolenic acid content but also to have increased marketing opportunities because of the improved protein content in the meal," Duguid writes.

When: Seed of these improved varieties already is available and is being marketed as Prairie Thunder, Shape flax, and FP2214. Oil is expected to be available for use by the food industry in two or three years.

Samples: Samples are available now.

Contact: Scott D. Duguid, research scientist (Scott.Duguid@agr.gc.ca ).


Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), Bandar Baru Bangi, Kajang, Selangor, Malaysia

What: High-oleic (with reduced palmitic acid) and high-stearic acid palm oils.

How: Genetic modification.

When: Transgenic plants currently are available in biosafety screenhouses, with commercial planting expected by 2025.

Samples: Oil samples are expected to be available in 2013.

Contact: Ahmad Parveez Ghulam Kadir (parveez@mpob.gov.my ).

MPOB, Bandar Baru Bangi, Kajang, Selangor, Malaysia

What: Breeding populations for the following traits have been developed: high iodine value for high oil unsaturation, high carotene for the nutraceutical industry, high vitamin E as a source of antioxidants, high oleic acid for high oil unsaturation, and low lipase for maintenance of oil quality.

How: Conventional breeding.

When: Breeding populations for the production of planting materials with the above traits are already available for uptake by industry. Currently, only the high-iodine value planting material is available commercially. For the other traits, current production at MPOB is mainly for research and development (progeny testing and field evaluation). Uptake of the breeding materials by industry would be required for commercial production of the planting materials.

Samples: Samples could be prepared and made available for evaluation subject to clearance from MPOB management.

Contact: Mohd Din Amiruddin (mohddin@mpob.gov.my ).

Catherine Watkins is associate editor of inform. She can be reached at cwatkins@aocs.org.