The CRISPR-edited button white mushroom bypassed the regulations of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on genetically modified organisms (GMO's).

Agaricus bisporus (white mushrooms) are the most commonly consumed mushrooms in the United States. However, they turn brown so fast, which then affects their chances of being sold. The Pennsylvania State University geneticist Yinong Yang then targeted an enzyme that causes the white mushrooms to brown. Using the CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing tool, he removed a gene family that encodes this enzyme. The result is a genetically modified mushroom whose browning activity is reduced by 30 percent.

When the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the USDA was tasked to regulate the mutated fungus last year, APHIS responded that they will not regulate the new product because it doesn't contain genetic information from other organisms like other genetically modified foods.

"APHIS does not consider CRISPR/Cas9-edited white button mushrooms as described in your October 30, 2015 letter to be regulated pursuant to 7 CFR part 340," explained USDA in its response sent last week.

This suggested that the mutated mushroom can be produced and sold without additional regulations. While Yang's mutated mushrooms are not the first GMO's to bypass the USDA regulation, it is the first one that has been tweaked using the hotly contested gene editing tool CRISPR/Cas9 technology.

The absence of new genes in genetically tweaked products is a bureaucratic loophole that has allowed GMO's to bypass regulations. In the beginning, GMO's contained genes from bacteria or viruses that affect the product's or crop's DNA. Regulators considered these GMO's plant pests subject to regulation.

The recent evasion does not mean that these mutant mushrooms will be sold in grocery chains across the country in a month's time. The genetically edited product needs to go through other regulating bodies first before it reaches the produce aisles in your favorite supermarkets. Moreover, GMO's regulations are being reanalyzed and revamped to adapt to the new gene editing technologies.

Photo: Mike Licht | Flickr

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