ShapeShapeauthorShapecrossShapeShapeShapeGrouphamburgerhomeGroupmagnifyShapeShapeShaperssShape

Sponsor message

As a pioneer in the aquaculture industry,
INVE has always been about enabling growth

A "paradigm shift" in omega-3 research

A major discovery that could “revolutionise” the understanding of omega-3 production in the ocean has been made by an international team of scientists.

Led by the University of Stirling, research has found – for the first time – that omega-3 fatty acids can be created by many invertebrates inhabiting marine ecosystems, including corals, worms and molluscs.

The research was led by Dr Oscar Monroig, from Stirling's Institute of Aquaculture
The research was led by Dr Oscar Monroig, from Stirling's Institute of Aquaculture

The breakthrough challenges the generally held principle that marine microbes, such as microalgae and bacteria, are responsible for virtually all primary production of omega-3.

Lead scientist Dr Oscar Monroig, from Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, said that the findings strongly suggest that aquatic invertebrates may make “a very significant contribution to global omega-3 production”.

“Our study provides a significant paradigm shift, as it demonstrates that a large variety of invertebrate animals, including corals, rotifers, molluscs, polychaetes and crustaceans, possess enzymes called ‘desaturases’ of a type that enable them to produce omega-3, an ability thought to exist almost exclusively in marine microbes,” Dr Monroig explained.

First author of the study, Dr Naoki Kabeya, of Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, visited the Institute of Aquaculture after receiving a fellowship from the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology Scotland (MASTS).

Sponsor message

The growth story 
of Nireus, Greece

Like all Mediterranean producers, Nireus has a strong need to market their product as fresh, affordable and high quality fish, with traceability as an important asset. Building a stable future for the company on both technical and business knowledge, Nireus realizes that a healthy economy in aquaculture can only be built on healthy fish.

Discover more growth stories

Dr Kabeya said: “Since invertebrates represent a major component of the biomass in aquatic ecosystems such as coral reefs, abyssal plains and hydrothermal vents, their contribution to the overall omega-3 production is likely to be remarkable.”

The study found that a number of invertebrates, including corals, worms and molluscs, can synthesise omega-3 fatty acids
The study found that a number of invertebrates, including corals, worms and molluscs, can synthesise omega-3 fatty acids

The research also involved Stirling’s Professor Douglas Tocher, and members of an international consortium of scientists, including Dr David Ferrier, of the Scottish Oceans Institute at the University of St Andrews; Dr Filipe Castro, of the Interdisciplinary Centre of Marine and Environmental Research (CIIMAR) - University of Porto; the Spanish National Research Council; the Australian Institute of Marine Science; and Deakin University.

Dr Ferrier said: “It was very surprising to us to see just how widespread these genes were, particularly in animals that are so common and abundant in the sea.

“It is also intriguing that these genes seem to be jumping between very different organisms, such as from plants or fungi into an insect and a spring-tail, by a process of horizontal gene transfer. This has been a controversial idea, that genes can move around in this way, but our data looks rather convincing that these genes have done this in at least some of these species."

Certain omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential for human health, particularly in western countries with high prevalence of cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases for which omega-3 oil supplements are commonly prescribed. Therefore, the new research is not only likely to impact the scientific community, but also the general public and various industries involved in the production of supplements.

“These findings can revolutionise our understanding of omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids production on a global scale,” Dr Monroig added.

The paper, Genes for de novo biosynthesis of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are widespread in animals, was funded by MASTS and the European Union’s FP7 funding programme and is published in the journal Science Advances.

Rob Fletcher

Rob Fletcher

Learn more