A Global Edible Oil Source – Production of Canola
Derived from the name “Canadian oil low acid,” canola oil has become one of the world’s most popular and nutritionally valuable of the edible oils. Its creation is the result of extensive work in biochemistry and genetic engineering. Burton Craig and Keith Downey at the National Research Council in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, used their different areas of expertise to develop the plant from the highly bitter and inedible rapeseed, or Brassica napus.
During the 1970’s, rapeseed existed as a valuable cash crop in the Saskatchewan fields, mainly for its uses as an industrial lubricant. Due to its high erucic acid and glucosinate content, however, the rapeseed oil was found to be unsuitable for animal feedstock or human consumption.
Using plant genetics, Downey was able to produce rapeseed plants that had drastically reduced amounts of acid and glucosinates. By selectively breeding different strains of the rapeseed plant, Downey was eventually able to eliminate the undesirable characteristics and to produce the world’s first canolas.
However, Downey’s developments using plant genetics were supported by equally important developments in gas chromatography assays by Burton Craig. By testing the different strains of rapeseed using this method, Craig could identify the fatty acid content of Downey’s genetically modified Brassicas, enabling rational control of the genetic engineering program.
Thanks to the collaborative work of Downey and Craig, canola oil is now distributed worldwide as an edible oil source and used across the globe not only for cooking, but also in biofuels, lubricants, and numerous commercial goods.