SCIENTISTS from the University of Stirling are looking to boost people’s diets through innovative salmon feed.

Fish nutritionists are testing whether oils from microalgae and genetically modified oilseed crops could provide beneficial omega-3 for salmon, and in turn humans.

Led by Professor Douglas Tocher and Dr Mónica Betancor from the university's Institute of Aquaculture, the study will consider the impact of the two in providing the omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

The novel oils will be incorporated into salmon feed and the researchers will monitor the impact of the omega-3 sources on the response of the fish to specific disease and parasite challenges.

In humans, omega-3 plays critical roles in playing critical roles in cardiovascular health, immune function and brain development.

However, researchers explained that wild fisheries – which currently provide EPA and DHA – are at their sustainable limits and, therefore, existing stocks are not able to provide enough of the beneficial omega-3 for the ever-increasing global population.

Dr Betancor said: “The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are beneficial to human health – but they are in short supply.

“Fish and seafood – now increasingly supplied by the aquaculture sector – are the major sources of these omega-3 fatty acids.

“The aquaculture industry also adds these fatty acids to fish diets to increase levels of EPA and DHA in the products, which then benefits the consumer.

“Very recently, entirely new sources of these omega-3 fatty acids have been developed specifically for the aquaculture industry to help bridge the gap between supply and demand.

“One approach, led by our colleagues at Rothamsted Research, includes the development of feeds containing oils obtained from a genetically engineered oilseed crop, Camelina.

“Our new study will test these novel oils as sources of omega-3 in feeds for farmed Atlantic salmon, focusing on their impacts on fish health.”

Omega-3 is also essential for fish’s health; reduced levels are linked to higher rates of and more severe inflammatory diseases.

Dr Betancor added: “This study is timely, highly relevant and appropriate as it responds to current needs with cutting-edge research to improve the quality and effectiveness of modern sustainable feeds in fish farming, enhancing production and feed efficiency, while maintaining the health and improving the nutritional quality of farmed fish – delivering greater sustainability and food security.”