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Phytochemistry. 2004 Jan;65(2):147-58.

Eicosapentaenoic acid: biosynthetic routes and the potential for synthesis in transgenic plants.

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  • 1Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, AL5 2JQ, Herts, UK.


Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids are now known to play important roles in human health. In particular, eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5Delta(5,8,11,14,17); n-3: EPA) is implicated as a protective agent in a range of pathologies such as cardiovascular disease and Metabolic Syndrome (Syndrome X). Eicosapentaenoic acid is currently sourced from fish oils, the presence of this fatty acid being due to the dietary piscine consumption of EPA-synthesising micro-algae. The biosynthetic pathway of EPA has been elucidated, and contains several alternative metabolic routes. Progress in using "reverse engineering" to transgenically mobilize the trait(s) for EPA are considered. In particular, the prospect of producing this important polyunsaturated fatty acid in transgenic oilseeds is highlighted, as is the urgent need for a sustainable replacement for diminishing fish stocks.

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