GMO Mushroom Sidesteps USDA Regulations
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said it will not regulate the potential cultivation and sale of a genetically modified (GMO) mushroom the same way it regulates conventional GMOs because the mushroom was made with the genome-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9.
Thanks to a new gene-editing tool, the common white button mushroom has been genetically altered to resist browning. Photo credit: Flickr
This is the first time the U.S. government has cleared a food product edited with the new and controversial 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.
“The USDA decision is a perfect illustration of how weak regulations for evaluating genetically engineered crops are,” Patty Lovera of Food & Water Watch, told Quartz.
Yang told Nature he is considering whether or not to bring the mushroom to market.
“I need to talk to my dean about that," he said. "We’ll have to see what the university wants to do next."
Yang, however, told MIT Technology Review that even the company that helped fund the research, Giorgio Mushroom Co. of Pennsylvania, isn't sure if they want the mushroom in a store near you given the public's overwhelming skepticism of GMOs.
“[The] marketing people at Giorgio are more interested in organic mushrooms and are afraid of negative response regarding GMO from consumers,” Yang said.
A 2015 Pew Research Poll revealed that 57 percent of U.S. adults believe that GMO-foods are “generally unsafe” to eat.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
Glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto's widely used herbicide Roundup, will be added July 7 to California's list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer, according to a Reuters report Tuesday. This news comes after the company's unsuccessful attempt to block the listing in trial court and requests for stay were denied by a state appellate court and California's Supreme Court.
California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) announced the designation on Monday under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, or Proposition 65.
Canadian government officials and marine biologists are investigating the mysterious deaths of six North American right whales. The endangered animals all turned up dead between June 6 and June 23 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, off Canada's southeastern coast.
North Atlantic right whales are the rarest of all large whale species and among the rarest of all marine mammal species, with only about 450 right whales in the North Atlantic.
By Jason Mark
Sequoiadendron giganteum. That's the scientific name for the giant sequoia: the mammoth trees found in California's Sierra Nevada that are the largest organisms on Earth, and among the longest-lived. Biologists estimate that about half of all sequoias live in Giant Sequoia National Monument, a 328,000-acre preserve in the Southern Sierra Nevada established by President Clinton in 2000.
Now that national monument is in jeopardy.
By Andy Rowell
Donald Trump this week is launching an "energy week," pushing the argument that the U.S. will become a net exporter of oil and gas.
The president and his cronies are talking about a new era of "U.S. energy dominance," which could stretch for decades to come. However, no one believes the president anymore.
By Colleen Curry
The United Nations has designated 23 new sites around the world to its World Network of Biosphere reserves—stunning natural landscapes that balance environmental and human concerns and strive for sustainability.
The forests, beaches and waterways were added to the list this year at the International Coordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere Programme meeting in Paris earlier this month.
By Andy Rowell
There is a growing feeling within European capitals that a quiet, but deeply positive, revolution is happening under Emmanuel Macron in France.
Macron's opinion poll rating is high, especially boosted in how the young French president has reacted to Donald Trump on the international stage.