A white button mushroom genetically modified so it turns brown more slowly – thus having a longer shelf life – is on track to being sold in the United States.
And the fact that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has said it won’t regulate the mushroom as it does other genetically engineered (GE) modified organisms is seen as paving the way to the market for many more such products.
The anti-browning trait in this particular mushroom was introduced via science’s hot new tool CRISPR–Cas9, a promising but controversial gene-editing technique. Unlike some other forms of genetic modification, CRISPR does not introduce any foreign genetic material, it modifies pre-existing genes. In this case, Penn State University researcher Yinong Yang used it to provide an anti-browning trait that improves appearance and shelf life, as well as facilitating automated mechanical harvesting, in the common white button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus).
In a letter to Dr Yang, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which is responsible for regulating certain GE organisms that are or could be plant pests, noted the mushrooms don’t contain introduced genetic material and are unlikely to be plant pests and thus won’t be subject to this regulation. They may, however, be subject to control by other regulatory authorities such as the FDA or EPA, it said.
According to Billy Roberts from market intelligence agency Mintel, the mushrooms demonstrate the speed of advancements in the genetic modification arena, while also providing a serious challenge to regulatory agencies, and could change the GMO debate in the US. Roberts said research shows consumers want to know if foods have GM ingredients and significant numbers indicate that they seek GMO-free claims on foods they buy.
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Also see: Cucumbers that stay green longer
Image of Agaricus bisporus Zuchtchampignon by Böhringer Friedrich (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
The shelf life of white button mushrooms can reach at least 12 days thanks to packaging developed by ITENE, the Valencia-based Packaging, Transport and Logistics Research Centre.
According to ITENE patent application documents recently published by WIPO, such mushrooms generally have a very short shelf life, usually just 4-7 days after harvest. They are very sensitive to humidity levels, microorganisms, and physical handling, factors which can affect their appearance and appeal to consumers. When packaged, moisture produced by the mushrooms tends to condensate inside the package and on the mushrooms.
But ITENE says a package with a particular coating containing calcium chloride allows this excess humidity to be absorbed, so water drops don’t fall on the mushrooms. Thus the shelf life of fresh mushrooms, particularly edible Agaricus spp. mushrooms, and more particularly Agaricus bisporus (which includes portobello and champignon mushrooms), “can be increased until at least 12 days during storage.” The packaging can also help boost the shelf life of other fresh vegetables and fruit.
ITENE says the packaging’s structural design can also play a role in the conservation of fresh mushrooms, fruits, and vegetables and, among other things, allows for:
- protecting the product from possible damage during distribution;
- protecting the top of the product, particularly of mushrooms, to avoid damage (marking) from pressure;
- keeping the product in contact with the coating;
- being re-closable and allowing the protection of the product after opening during its life cycle;
- being transparent or opaque, in one or in two pieces, depending on the applications;
- nesting of the container for storage and transport prior to packaging.
FIG. 1 shows a package for the conservation of mushrooms comprising an opaque tray 1 and a transparent lid 2 (Fig. 1 a), as well as a detailed section of the closing system by the use of four protruding buttons 3 on the lid that are inserted in the corresponding hollows 4 on the upper part of the tray (Fig. 1 b.
FIG. 2 shows the section of a package with or without lid and the distribution of the mushrooms in the package of the invention; Details of the support between the lid and the tray are shown.
Source: WIPO, patent application: (WO2016016373) PACKAGE FOR MUSHROOMS, FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Main image of Agaricus bisporus Zuchtchampignon: by böhringer friedrich [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons