Worm Omega-3 Oil Genes Successfully Transferred to Cattle

CHINA - Chinese scientists have successfully introduced a gene from a worm into cattle, which could allow the production of beef with higher levels of beneficial omega-3 oils in future.
calendar icon 13 May 2015
clock icon 2 minute read

The team successfully introduced a gene into foetal cells from Luxi Yellow cattle, a Chinese breed with a high beef yield.

The fat1 gene, isolated from a nematode worm, codes for desaturase enzymes that are involved in the conversion of n-6 to n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

The scientists then used the foetal cells to produce 14 calves which showed some evidence of improved fatty acid levels.

A diet rich in long chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, also known as omega-3 oils and commonly found in fish, can help protect against cardiovascular diseases, obesity and neurodegenerative diseases.

However, levels of these fatty acids in the human diet have decreased over the years and the levels of shorter chain n-6 fatty acids have increased.

"We have provided the first evidence that it is possible to create a new breed of cattle with higher nutritional value in terms of their fatty acid composition," said corresponding author Linsen Zan from Northwest A&F University.

Of the 14 calves that successfully received the fat1 gene, 11 died at less than four months old, mainly from inflammation and from an infection common to cattle, haemorrhagic septicaemia.

The researchers say that further investigation is needed to determine the causes. Abnormalities may result from the incomplete reprogramming of cells or from some genes being turned on and off during the generation of embryos.

Other research groups are experimenting with increasing levels of omega-3 oils in farmed fish by creating fishmeal rich in a new plant source. A similar strategy could be used for cattle by producing feedstock rich in omega-3 oils, which could provide an alternative to the genetic techniques used in the study.

Similar genes have previously been introduced to pigs, dairy cattle and sheep by international research groups.

"There is much to learn about the best scientific techniques and the best husbandry required to make beef a rich animal source of omega-3 oils for human nutrition, but we have taken the first step," said lead author Gong Cheng.

The researchers believe that the results of their study could help ensure in the future that the beef that people eat is better for them.

Further Reading

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