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