Harpenden’s Rothamsted Research Centre has successfully gained permission to conduct field trials into Omega-3 fatty acid producing crops.

The West Common based agricultural institute will now be able to carry out field trials of a genetically modified crop containing the nutrient, normally found in oily fish, until 2017.

This comes after scientists applied for permission with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in January.

Professor Johnathan Napier, lead scientist of this project at Rothamsted Research said it was a "significant milestone."

He said: "We are very pleased to welcome the decision of Defra to grant us permission to carry out our proposed field trial.

"We have made considerable progress over the last ten years in designing and developing these plants and my colleagues and I am very happy that we can now test the performance of these plants in the field, under real life conditions.

"This project is a core element of our strategic programme grant Designing Seeds for Nutrition and Health, which is funded by the BBSRC. Being able to carry out the field trial with our GM plants, means that we have reached a significant milestone in the delivery of our research programme. "

The scientists at Rothamsted Research - who have been working on the project for 15 years - modified seeds from Camelina sativa (false flax) plants using genes from marine algae - the primary organisms that produce the fatty acids.

By substituting synthetic versions of up to seven genes from marine algae, the researchers have engineered Camelina plants to produce two key Omega-3 fatty acids normally obtained from oily fish, EPA and DHA.

Both are said to have important health benefits, including protection against heart disease.