Art Spector, Professor Emeritus
NIAAA, National Institutes of Health
George and Mildred Burr discovered that linoleic acid (18:2n-6) is an essential fatty acid for the rat, and in 1932 they found that linolenic acid (18:3n-3) also is essential. Their linoleic acid results were confirmed and generally accepted by the late 1930s, but other prominent laboratories could not confirm the essentiality of linolenic acid. Consequently, interest in omega-3 fatty acids de-clined, and most essential fatty acid research during the subsequent 40 years focused on linoleic acid and omega-6 fatty acid metabolism and function. Even the findings that EPA is a substrate for prostaglandin synthesis and DHA is required for normal brain development and optimum visual function generated only limited interest in omega-3 fatty acids. The breakthrough came when Dy-erberg and colleagues observed a lower incidence of coronary artery disease in Greenland Eskimos consuming a diet rich in marine lipids and demonstrated in 1978 that this likely may be due in to the anti-thrombotic effect of EPA. The finding that EPA has a protective effect against coronary dis-ease stimulated widespread interest in omega-3 fatty acids in the 1980s and led to the present view that omega-3 fatty acids have important physiological functions and are essential fatty acids.