I just had my car serviced today, and my mechanic mentioned that canola oil was invented (or originally used) as a form of motor oil. Is it true that the canola oil we use in the kitchen is the same as an oil that's been marketed as a motor oil?

1 Answer 1


Canola is variant of rapeseed "genetically modified" (see comments) through artificial selection techniques.

Rapeseed appears to have been used as a motor oil:

Rapeseed oil was produced in the 19th century as a source of a lubricant for steam engines. - Uncited claim in Wikipedia

However, canola was bred in the 1970s by Richard Keith Downey and his team for the nutritional value of its oil (i.e. it was edible, unlike the original rapeseed oil!).

Ref: Profile of Richard Keith Downey, Science.ca, which has references to this, now extinct, Agriculture and Agrifood Canada page (via the Wayback machine).

  • As the last link shows, Canola isn't GM rapeseed. The step from ordinary rapeseed to Canola was classical breeding; GM came later.
    – MSalters
    Jul 26, 2011 at 9:26
  • 1
    @MSalters, we are agreed on the facts, but maybe not on the definitions. I was taught GM was (by definition) a superset of Genetically Engineereed (GE) that also included artificially-selected breeding. I was taught the media often conflated the two. Now that I search for references to back up this distinction, I find nothing! Have the terms merged fully now, or did I learn something wrong?
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 26, 2011 at 10:48
  • 2
    Artificial selection and artificial pollination are generally considered "classical" techniques. GM/GE both refer to modern recombinant DNA techniques. The relevant difference is that the former cannot introduce DNA from other species, but the latter can. Canola was created by artificial selection and originally contained only rapeseed DNA. The GM varieties were created by inserting DNA to provide herbicide resistance.
    – MSalters
    Jul 26, 2011 at 12:54
  • Ah, here is a reference defending my usage. I have edited the answer to explain the term is in dispute. I'm avoiding about using the word "classical" because the team did develop a novel technique to speed the breeding process.
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 26, 2011 at 13:55
  • 2
    @MSalters Artificial selection does alter DNA. Any mating does so, actually! You can see that easily looking at yourself - you don't have the same DNA than your mother or your father.
    – T. Sar
    May 5, 2016 at 10:53

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .