GMO Mushroom Sidesteps UDSA Regulations
This is the first time the U.S. government has cleared a food product edited with the new andcontroversial technique.
The USDA announced in a letter last week that it had approved Pennsylvania State University plant pathologist Yinong Yang’s common white button mushroom (Agaricus bosporus) that’s engineered to be more resistant to browning. As the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) wrote on April 13:
The anti-browning trait reduces the formation of brown pigment (melanin), improving the appearance and shelf life of mushroom, and facilitating automated mechanical harvesting.
Based on the information cited in your letter, APHIS has concluded that your CRISPR/Cas9-edited white button mushrooms as described in your letter do not contain any introduced genetic material. APHIS has no reason to believe that CRISPR/Cas9-edited white button mushrooms are plant pests.
According to Nature, the mushroom was created by targeting the family of genes that encodes the enzyme polyphenol oxidase that causes browning. “By deleting just a handful of base pairs in the mushroom’s genome, Yang knocked out one of six PPO genes—reducing the enzyme’s activity by 30 percent,” Nature reported.
So why has this deliberately genetically modified “frankenfungi” escaped USDA scrutiny? Well, instead of the conventional method in which foreign DNA is spliced into a seed (i.e. Bt corn), genetic modification of Yang’s mushroom was achieved by altering its own genetic material.
As Quartz explained, a CRISPR-created product falls under a certain loophole:
Despite being directly and purposely genetically modified, USDA has allowed Yang’s mushroom to sidestep the regulatory system. The reason? Yang’s method does not contain “any introduced genetic material” from a plant pest such as bacteria or viruses. Conventional GMOs, the ones that the USDA’s rules are designed to deal with, are created by introducing foreign genes—for example, those of a bacteria might be introduced to give the crop some pest resistance.
Ultimately, the GMO mushroom could be the first of many new CRISPR-edited food products.
“The research community will be very happy with the news,” Caixia Gao, a plant biologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’s Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology in Beijing, who was not involved in developing the mushroom, told Nature. “I am confident we’ll see more gene-edited crops falling outside of regulatory authority.”
Quartz reported that there are already several CRISPR projects in development, including DuPont’s drought-resistant wheat and corn, a banana that can resist a fungus threatening that’s threatening its extinction and a herbicide-resistant oilseed from the biotech company Cibus.