New Methods of Genetic Modification
Bypass US Regulations
Since the 1970’s, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have caused endless debates within the global scientific community and have extended into the dialogue of the larger global population as well. Although in recent years many countries have put in place strict bans surrounding the import, export and growing of GMOs, other countries resolve to a formal review process of proposed crops before approving or denying their use. For instance, when new traits are genetically engineered into crops in the United States, the USDA, EPA and FDA each have their own processes to review the potential effects these crops could have on other plants, wild animals, and the humans that will consume these crops (if they are intended for foods) before approval (1).
There are, however, new methods for genetic modification on the rise that are bypassing these review processes because they do not directly engineer new traits into crops. One such method is known as CRISPR genome editing. In short, CRISPR (which stands for Clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats) is part of the immune system in prokaryotic organisms (archaea and bacteria) and has been adapted to be used for the modification of genomes in eukaryotic organisms (animals, fungi, plants, etc.). By delivering what is known as the Cas9 protein and appropriate guide RNAs into a cell, the CRISPR technique can cut an organism’s genome at any desired location for alteration. Since it’s discovery, CRISPR has caused a major eruption in biomedical research. “Unlike other gene-editing methods, it is cheap, quick and easy to use, and it has swept through labs around the world as a result” (2). It has even been called the “cut and paste” method for genome editing (3). WNYC’s Radiolab show has an excellent podcast that investigates the CRISPR process more deeply, along with possible consequences (both positive and negative) associated with this genetic engineering method.
Interestingly, the white button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) is “the first CRISPR-edited organism to receive a green light from the US government” (4). There are 30 other organisms (mostly plants) that have also side-stepped the USDA’s GMO regulations in the last 5 years using differing genetic modification methods (5).
The modifications of A. bisporus enable the mushroom to be shelved without ever browning. But among other concerns regarding the production and consumption of GMOs, researchers like mycologist Paul Stamets are flagging warning signs. In a recent blog post, Stamets stated that according to his research the genes that have been edited to prevent browning in A. Bosporus are the same gene pathways that create many of the important antivirals in the mushroom (6, 7).
The anti-browning mushroom has yet to be produced and sold on the market, but the associate professor Dr. Yinong Yang — of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State University — who conducted the research is considering creating a company to begin commercialization (4). His letter to the USDA seeking approval and their response are available to read online (8). In the letter, the USDA made it clear that the mushrooms still may be subject to other regulations by the FDA and EPA.
Source for feature image of blog post:
About the Author:Like fungi in their ecosystems, Mara Fae Penfil creates networks around the world, sharing information and resources about the Fungal Queendom in an effort to stimulate the interconnectedness and resilience within communities. As a member of the Radical Mycology Collective and founder of Female & Fungi, Mara utilizes mycology as a foundation for social and environmental advocacy, helping to empower people through the sharing of history, personal story, and skills based in intuition and the sciences.