Genetically Modified Mushroom Won’t Be Regulated by USDA

April 19, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

White button mushrooms
Photo credit: Darkone/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.5)

These mushrooms don’t turn brown after being sliced

Mushrooms whose genes have been edited using a new technology known as CRISPR can now be cultivated and sold. This is the first CRISPR-edited crop to be approved, and it did not even have to pass through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulatory process.

CRISPR technology targets specific locations of the genome and then slices DNA with an extremely precise pair of “molecular scissors.” Yinong Yang, a plant pathologist at Penn State University, used this relatively new technology to snip off part of a gene from a common white button mushroom. Removal of this short sequence reduces the browning that occurs after the mushroom is sliced.

So why did the USDA give this genetically modified mushroom the green light without implementing the usual oversights?

In a letter to Yang, the USDA stated that, because the edited mushroom does not contain foreign DNA, it is not considered a potential plant pest. The traditional approach to gene editing requires a bacterial pest to help introduce genes coding for certain enzymes into an organism’s genome, and there is a risk that some of that bacterial DNA will end up in the final product. But the newer CRISPR method eliminates this bacterial transport, meaning the edited plant is guaranteed not to receive any new DNA from plant pests.

Recently, biotech companies have also been given the go-ahead to bring non-browning apples and potatoes to market. Fruits and vegetables that resist browning can help reduce food waste because they have a longer shelf life. So keep an eye out — it might not be long before you see Yang’s modified mushrooms in your own grocery store’s produce aisle.

You might also like: “Frankenfish” — FDA Approves First Edible GMO Animal

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