Genetically engineered flax: potential benefits, risks, regulations, and mitigation of transgene movement
Flax (Linum usitatissimum L.) has been grown for more than 6000 years, primarily for oil and fiber. Advances in plant biotechnology have resulted in flax cultivars with increased herbicides resistance and there is potential to produce transgenic flax with seed oil containing fatty acids with nutraceutical properties. Flax oil is a rich source of -linolenic acid (ALA, 18:3cis9,12,15), a precursor of the very long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (VLCPUFA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20:5cis5,8,11,14,17), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6cis4,7,10,13,16,19). Current research on medicinal applications of -3 fatty acids, especially to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer, suggests that genetic modification of flax may provide substantial health benefits. There are concerns, however, with the commercialization of genetically engineered (GE) flax (which includes the potential movement of transgenes by pollen and seed, and subsequent introgression with weedy and wild relatives, impact on non-target organisms, and changes in biodiversity). A prerequisite to the unconfined cultivation of transgenic flax is an environmental risk assessment analysis. In this paper, we discuss the history and current status of genetic transformations in flax, potential benefits and consequences of GE flax, and the government regulatory framework in Canada for regulating novel flax. Finally, we discuss the best management practices to mitigate transgene movement from transgenic flax. Our intent was to evaluate biology and agronomy to predict the environmental biosafety of GE flax before commercial cultivation.