Progress of the edible-oil flax program at the Crop Development Centre
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An edible-oil flax crop will provide Saskatchewan farmers with an additional cropping option and help to extend crop rotations. Australian researchers have recently produced an edible-oil flax but this genetic material is not available to public institutions. Consequently, we were forced to produce our own mutant flax lines by treating the variety McGregor with the mutagen EMS (ethyl methanesulphonate). The objective of our research was to induce mutations that would lower the linolenic acid content of flax seed. To date we have isolated three mutant lines with lowered linolenic acid levels. Each of these lines has elevated levels of other fatty acids. Line E67 has increased concentrations of palmitic acid, line E1747 greatly increased levels of linoleic acid and line E1929 has increased oleic acid levels. Flaxseed, as produced today, is processed into linseed oil. The drying properties of linseed oil make it useful as a component of oil-based paints and of linoleum. However, these same drying properties cause linseed oil to oxidize and turn rancid, making it unsuitable for human consumption. The most prevalent fatty acid in linseed oil is linolenic acid and this fatty acid imparts most of the drying quality to the oil. Green (1986) described the development in flax (Linum usitatissimum L.) of a genotype whose seed contained less than 2% linolenic acid. The low linolenic acid character is controlled by two recessive genes that were produced by EMS (ethyl methanesulphonate) mutagenesis in the Australian cultivar Glenelg. These very low levels of linolenic acid have resulted in flax being considered for edible-oil purposes. The discovery of these fatty acid mutants brought the hope that edible oil flax cultivars could be developed for Saskatchewan. However, we were unable to obtain low linolenic acid lines from the Australians. We, therefore, began our own mutagenesis program with the hope of duplicating the Australian results.
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