Yinong Yang, a Penn State University researcher, has used a famous gene editing tool known as CRISPR/Cas9 for cutting out a small piece of DNA from one specific gene in a white button mushroom. With this, Yang was able to stop the gene, which in turn cuts the production of an enzyme known as polyphenol oxidase in mushroom. With this gene editing of white mushrooms, the mushroom doesn’t get spoiled as natural mushrooms.
You might have heard something like this earlier as scientists have also developed non-browning versions of apples and potatoes. However, those crops were called GMOs as scientists had put in new, slightly altered genes within those plants to ‘silence’ the natural gene.
Last fall, Yang wrote a letter to the US Department of Agriculture, wherein he asked whether his mushroom would be subject to regulation by the USDA. The USDA replied this week saying no.
This is for the first time that the USDA has considered a crop that has undergone alteration using the CRISPR technique. This has drawn a lot of attention as it can possibly be the first of many candidates for genetic editing.
This doesn’t mean that the mushroom or other foods would essentially avoid all kinds of scrutiny by government. So far, the firms that have thought of bringing in GMOs to market have submitted their products for review to the Food and Drug Administration.
Yang added, “Anything for food or feed consumption, usually the company submits the data to FDA for approval. But this process is voluntary, not mandatory”.
According to Gregory Jaffe, biotechnology program coordinator at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the case of the mushroom has shed light on the holes in the existing regulatory process of the government. He added that the regulatory system isn’t science-based, rather is trigger-based.