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Oil composition boost makes hemp a cooking contender

Posted on 10 February 2014

Scientists at the University of York today report the development of hemp plants with a dramatically increased content of oleic acid.

The new oil profile results in an attractive cooking oil that is similar to olive oil in terms of fatty acid content having a much longer shelf life as well as greater heat tolerance and potentially more industrial applications. 

The new line represents a major improvement in hemp as an oil crop

Professor Ian Graham

Researchers in the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) in the Department of Biology at York say that high oleic acid varieties are a major step towards developing hemp as a commercially attractive break crop for cereal farmers. The research is published in Plant Biotechnology Journal

Using fast-track molecular plant breeding, the scientists selected hemp plants lacking the active form of an enzyme involved in making polyunsaturated fatty acids.  These plants made less poly-unsaturated fatty acids and instead accumulated higher levels of the mono-unsaturated oleic acid. The research team used conventional plant breeding techniques to develop the plants into a “High Oleic Hemp” line and higher oleic acid content was demonstrated in a Yorkshire field trial. 

Oil from the new line was almost 80 per cent oleic acid, compared with typical values of less than 10 per cent in the standard hemp line.  This high mono-unsaturated/low poly-unsaturated fatty acid profile increases the oil’s thermal stability and oil from the new line was shown to have around five times the stability of standard hemp oil.  This not only makes the oil more valuable as a cooking oil but also increases its usefulness for high temperature industrial processes. 

As oilseed rape faces declining yields and increasing attacks from pest and disease, UK farming needs another break crop to ensure the sustainability of its agriculture and maintain cereal yields.  An improved hemp crop, yielding high quality oil would provide an excellent alternative. Hemp is a low-input crop and is also dual-purpose, with the straw being used as a fibre (for bedding, composites and textiles), for biomass and as a source of high value waxes and secondary metabolites. 

Professor Ian Graham, from CNAP, said: “The new line represents a major improvement in hemp as an oil crop. Similar developments in soybean and oilseed rape have opened up new markets for these crops, due to the perceived healthiness and increased stability of their oil.” 

In 2014 field trials of the new High Oleic Hemp are being rolled out across Europe in order to establish agronomic performance and yield under a range of environmental conditions in advance of launching a commercial crop.

Notes to editors:

  • “Targeted mutation of delta 12 and delta 15 desaturase genes in hemp produce major alterations in seed fatty acid composition including a high oleic hemp” by Monika Beileka et al. will be published by the Plant Biotechnology Journal on 10 February 2014.  For a copy of the paper, visit http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1467-7652/earlyviewPhotographs to accompany this news release can be downloaded from http://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2014/research/hemp/hemp-gallery
  • The Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) is an award winning strategic research centre based in the Department of Biology at the University of York. CNAP is dedicated to realising the potential of plants as renewable, low-cost factories that produce high-value chemicals and biofuels. Laboratory based discoveries are translated into practice in partnership with industry. www.york.ac.uk/org/cnap/
  • Financial support for this work came from the UK Technology Strategy Board, the EU 7th Framework Programme and from the Garfield Weston Foundation to the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products.

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