By Michael Haddon
Rothamsted Research said Thursday it had successfully performed an experiment which accumulated around 8% more oil from rapeseed by using biotechnology to switch off an enzyme responsible for oil breakdown for the duration of seed development.
The agricultural research centre said further work is required to establish the efficacy of the method in the field and to investigate if it could be applied to other oilseed crops or successfully combined with different approaches to boost yields.
"Oilseed rape has become quite a profitable crop in recent years and the scale of cultivation in the U.K. has increased substantially," said Rothamsted Research's Pete Eastmond. "Farmers receive a bonus at market, based on the oil content of their seed, [so] if this technology translates from laboratory to field, we estimate it could be worth an extra 40 million pounds [$64 million] per year to farmers in the U.K. alone," he added.
Rapeseed is the U.K.'s major vegetable oil crop. The country's harvest declined 7% to 2.6 million tons in 2012 due to poor weather during the spring and summer, according to the farm ministry. A yield decrease of 13%, was mitigated by a 7.2% increase in planted area, to 755,000 hectares, after favorable planting conditions in autumn 2011.
Indeed, rapeseed has become extremely profitable for farmers in recent years as prices have been driven by the increasing popularity of rapeseed oil in cooking as its health benefits have become more widely known, it added.
Vegetable oils are obtained from the seeds and fruits of crop plants such as rapeseed, sunflower, soybean or palm and are a major global commodity. World production has surpassed 150 million metric tons a year and is predicted to rise by 50% within 20 years to meet growing demand.
Rothamsted Research said the experiment used RNA interference as a tool and was performed in collaboration with BASF Plant Science, a subsidiary of BASF SE. (BASFY).
Write to Michael Haddon at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MichaelHaddonDJ
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