Martek and Dow AgroSciences forge alliance for canola DHA

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Dha, Fatty acid, Eicosapentaenoic acid

Two major players in the US healthy oils market are joining forces
to develop a DHA oil from canola, which could lead to the launch of
a new, cost effective source of the blockbuster ingredient down the
line.

DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is recognised as the most bioavailable source of omega-3 for humans. At present, the main source of DHA and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) is fish oil, but there are concerns over the sustainability of fish sources, as well as the amount of fish oil available to the nutrition industry as demand for crude fish oil from the aquaculture industry increases. Martek has already established a reputation as a trailblazer in the omega-3 market, as it is a major supplier of DHA from microalgae, billed as a vegetarian alternative to fish oil-derived DHA. Bringing a new source on line - and one that is expected to be more cost-efficient than current offerings - would be a tremendous boon to a market where food manufacturers have spotted lucrative potential to make appealing products to help consumers include more DHA in their diets. At present, only shorter chain omega-3 ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) can be obtained from crops, such as flax. While this has its nutritional uses, it is less bioavailable for humans, and is not included in the US health claims covering DHA and EPA and heart health. DHA has also been well researched for its role in reducing risk in supporting other health aspects, including eye health, joint health, and cognitive function and development. Martek spokesperson Cassie France-Kelly told NutraIngredients-USA.com that AgroScience already has a canola seed with omega-9, which is used as the basis for a line of healthy oils. The cross-company team will work to apply an omega-3 producing gene from Martek's microalgae to this seed. According to France-Kelly, the plant would be genetically-modified, but the resulting oil would contain no genetically modified proteins. The companies say that DHA from canola would present a more cost-effective vegetarian supply. France-Kelly said it remains to be seen just how much more cost effective it will be, since at the moment the alliance is only just beginning. DHA from microalgae is presently more expensive than DHA from fish oil, but the margin is narrowing, she said, as Martek becomes more efficient. Indeed, improving manufacturing efficiency on an on-going basis is "a priority"​. The long-term arrangement is described as "multi-year​", and since it is a scientific effort it is hard to pin-point exactly when the first fruits will come to market. But France-Kelly said it will be "more than a couple of years, hopefully less than 10".​ In terms of marketing the DHA oil from canola, financial details of the arrangement have not been disclosed, and France-Kelly said the markets have yet to be defined. But in a communication about the arrangement the companies said a DHA-rich canola oil "would strengthen Martek's position as a leading producer and marketer of DHA-enriched oils and powders"​ and "complement Dow AgroSciences' current omega-9 oils platform".​ The implication, therefore, is that sales and marketing rights would be shared. Dow AgroSciences' oils offering is geared towards helping the food industry remove trans fats and reduce saturated fats in products. DHA demand ​ Estimates put the European omega-3 at around 160m in 2004, although parallel data from that year for the US was not available. Consultancy Frost and Sullivan and market analyst Euromonitor International both forecast average annual growth of eight per cent to 2010. Meanwhile, Leatherhead Food International is presently conducting research with the aim of providing an up-to-date figure. DHA from plants ​ Martek and DowAgriSciences are by no means the only companies looking at GM solutions to the DHA-plant problem. In fact, competition in the area looks to be hotting up. Last March Monsanto and The Solae Company announced a collaboration to development of omega-3 from genetically-modified soy beans, which could speed up the availability of the healthy ingredient from new non-marine sources. Monsanto and Solae (with its majority owner DuPont) had each been independently conducting research on soy beans containing high levels of omega-3. Again, the companies did not commit to a time-line for the introduction of the first fruits of the collaboration, but a spokesperson told NutraIngredients-USA.com last year that it was fair to expect it within the next five years. BASF is also known to have been conducting research into obtaining long chain fatty acids from genetically modified plants.

Related topics: Health and nutritional ingredients

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