Prof. Johnathon Napier

Prof. Johnathan A. Napier, Rothamsted Research, UK

Johnathan is a leading pioneer in plant biotechnology and an advocate for the power of GM plants to deliver for the public good. He has made the key discoveries in understanding the biosynthesis of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (aka, omega-3 fish oils). He was the first to identify the N-terminal cytochrome b5-fusion desaturase family now recognised, from his further work, as central to this pathway. He was also first to identify the other key biosynthetic activity for omega-3 fish oils, the microsomal elongase. He has reconstructed this complex heterologous pathway in transgenic plants, providing a sustainable terrestrial source of fish oils, and representing the most sophisticated plant metabolic engineering to date to undergo environmental release. This work is also among the most significant GM field trials in the UK. Johnathan is a passionate advocate for both the science and the impact (more sustainable aquaculture, better human nutrition) of his GM omega-3 project, and engaged in many public and media activities.

Introduction to Field Trials Workshop – 11th October 2022

Title: The Road Less Travelled – Translating Discovery into Product: Lessons from the Rothamsted Omega-3 Project

Abstract: For over two decades now we have been evaluating the production omega-3 LC-PUFAs in transgenic plants, to provide a sustainable source of these important nutrients independent of oceanic sources.   Attempts to metabolically engineer plants with the algal biosynthetic pathway for LC-PUFAs has ultimately led to the production of a transgenic oilseed crop (Camelina sativa) which contains over 20% omega-3 LC-PUFAs EPA+DHA in its seed oil. This omega-3 trait represents the most complex plant metabolic engineering trait to attempt the transition from research phase into development, regulatory approval and commercialisation, and all of these represent activities beyond the normal scope of academic research.  Given the pressing need for answers to the global challenges facing the human race, more focus and effort should be placed on translation and my talk will consider how this can be achieved without comprising curiosity-driven research. Specifically, there are many lessons from our omega-3 project which might yield useful learnings.  The fact that it takes 25 years to get to a point where impact is only now likely to be realised also confirms the need for realistic estimates in the time required for basic research to delivery societal benefits.