Publication Details

Hulbert, A. J. & Abbott, S. K. (2011). Nutritional ecology of essential fatty acids: an evolutionary perspective. Australian Journal of Zoology, 59 (6), 369-379.


There are four types of fatty acids but only two types are essential nutritional requirements for many animals. These are the omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-6 PUFA) and the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFA) and because they cannot be converted to one another they are separate essential dietary requirements. They are only required in small amounts in the diet and their biological importance stems largely from their role as constituents of membrane lipids. They are synthesised by plants and, as a generalisation, green leaves are the source of n-3 PUFA while seeds are the source of n-6 PUFA in the food chain. While the fatty acid composition of storage fats (triglycerides) is strongly influenced by dietary fatty acid composition, this is not the case for membrane fats. The fatty acid composition of membrane lipids is relatively unresponsive to dietary fatty acid composition, although n-3 PUFA and n-6 PUFA can substitute for each in membrane lipids to some extent. Membrane fatty acid composition appears to be regulated and specific for different species. The role of essential fats in the diet of animals on (1) basal metabolic rate, (2) thermoregulation, (3) maximum longevity, and (4) exercise performance is discussed.

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