Quantcast

GMO Mushroom Sidesteps USDA Regulations

Food

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.

GMO-opponents have already criticized the USDA's move.

“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.

The U.S. does not have a government body that specifically regulates GMOs. The Washington Post noted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency only regulates GMOs designed for pest control and the Food and Drug Administration considers all GMOs to be safe.

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 Found in Popular Breakfast Foods

What Will Happen When Genetically Engineered Salmon Escape Into the Wild?

Africa’s Traditional Crops Under Threat as Big Ag, Gates Foundation ‘Donate’ GMO Technology

Monsanto CEO Says ‘Roundup Is Not A Carcinogen’ But 94 Scientists From Around the World Disagree

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

SHEALAH CRAIGHEAD

By Elliott Negin

On July 19, President Trump hosted Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and their families, along with the family of their deceased colleague Neil Armstrong, at a White House event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first manned landing on the moon.

Read More Show Less
The study looked at three groups of diverse lizards from South America. Daniel Pincheira-Donoso
  1. Cold-climate lizards that give live birth to their offspring are more likely to be driven to extinction than their egg-laying cousins as global temperatures continue to rise, new research suggests.
Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Denmark isn't interested in selling Greenland to the U.S., so now President Trump doesn't want to visit.

Read More Show Less
A stock photo of fire in the Amazon; a record number of fires have burned there this year. Brasil2 / E+ / Getty Images

There are a record number of wildfires burning in the Amazon rainforest, Brazil's space agency has said. Their smoke is visible from space and shrouded the city of São Paulo in darkness for about an hour Monday afternoon, CBS news reported.

Read More Show Less

Tuna auctions are a tourist spectacle in Tokyo. Outside the city's most famous fish market, long queues of visitors hoping for a glimpse of the action begin to form at 5 a.m. The attraction is so popular that last October the Tsukiji fish market, in operation since 1935, moved out from the city center to the district of Toyosu to cope with the crowds.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

gmnicholas / E+ / Getty Images

By Nicole Greenfield

Kristan Porter grew up in a fishing family in the fishing community of Cutler, Maine, where he says all roads lead to one career path: fishing. (Porter's father was the family's lone exception. He suffered from terrible seasickness, and so became a carpenter.) The 49-year-old, who has been working on boats since he was a kid and fishing on his own since 1991, says that the recent warming of Maine's cool coastal waters has yielded unprecedented lobster landings.

Read More Show Less
TeamDAF / Getty Images Plus

The climate crisis is getting costly. Some of the world's largest companies expect to take over one trillion in losses due to climate change. Insurers are increasingly jittery and the world's largest firm has warned that the cost of premiums may soon be unaffordable for most people. Historic flooding has wiped out farmers in the Midwest.

Read More Show Less
Aerial view of lava flows from the eruption of volcano Kilauea on Hawaii, May 2018. Frizi / iStock / Getty Images

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less