GeneWatch PR: GM animals high in omega-3 fatty acids: scientist ready to cash in via patent. GeneWatch UK response to paper published in Nature today

5th February 2004 - for immediate release

Today, the leading science journal, Nature, publishes research describing the production of GM mice that have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their bodies and milk (1). The scientists involved suggest applying the technique to farm animals, such as chickens and cattle, to produce 'healthy' eggs and milk. Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to have a protective effect against heart disease and are normally found at high levels in oily fish.

GeneWatch UK has discovered that the lead scientist involved filed a patent application for the technique on 12th March 2002 (2). If granted, this will give him monopoly rights over the use of work and able to charge license fees and royalties. The patent claims cover the GM animals themselves.

"Producing GM chickens and cows with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids would result in the death and suffering of many, many animals", said Dr Sue Mayer, GeneWatch UK's Director. "There are better ways of tackling heart disease than trying to engineer animals to suit unhealthy lifestyles. The scientist has neatly set himself up to profit from this venture. The publication in Nature looks like free advertising and leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth".

"If this ever got off the ground, we are likely to see the ridiculous situation of fish meal and oil being used to feed GM cows and chickens to provide us with omega-3 fatty acids we could have got from the fish in the first place," said Dr Mayer. "It's a crude attempt to squeeze more profits out of animals."

Further Information:

Please contact Sue Mayer on 01298 871898 (office); 07930 308807 (mobile)

Notes to editors:

  1. The paper 'Fat-1 mice convert n-6 to n-3 fatty acids' is a short communication in Nature 5th February 2004 by Jing X Kang, Jingdong Wong, Lin Wu and Zhao B Kang . Scientists from the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in the USA, transferred a gene from a roundworm into laboratory mice. They say 'our discovery indicates that this technology might be adapted to enrich n-3 fatty acids in animal products such as meat, milk and eggs'.
  2. Patent application WO 02072028: Compositions and methods for modifying the content of polyunsaturated fatty acids in mammalian cells. Filed: 12th April 2002. Inventor: Jing X Kang. Applicant: The General Hospital Corporation.

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