The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said it doesn't need to regulate the cultivation and sale of a genetically modified mushroom because the organism in question doesn't contain any foreign DNA.
The decision is the first of its kind regarding an organism modified using CRISPR — a relatively new gene-editing technique that's better known for its applications modifying human embryos than vegetables. Unlike older methods used to create GMOs, CRISPR doesn't insert DNA from viruses and bacteria into target organisms to create its intended effects, and for this reason, the gene-edited mushroom doesn't fall under the USDA's regulatory framework.
The USDA says no foreign DNA means the mushrooms aren't a threat to other plants
In a letter to Yinong Yang, the plant pathologist who developed the mushroom, the USDA states that it believes the genetically edited mushrooms "do not contain any introduced genetic material." Therefore, it "has no reason to believe that [they] are plant pests."
The mushroom in question is a version of the common white button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus), genetically tweaked to reduce browning when cut. By deleting some of the genes responsible for creating the enzymes that power this reaction, Yang was able to reduce browning in the species by 30 percent. Doing so will increase the shelf life of the mushroom (reducing food waste), and also make it easier to harvest used automated farming methods.
Yang tells Nature that there are no immediate plans to introduce the genetically engineered mushroom to the US market, and the organism itself may still need approval from the FDA. However, the USDA's decision highlights the fact that the agency's regulations are being outpaced by scientific advancements. Last year, a White House memo sent to the FDA, USDA, and EPA advised that biotech regulations are in need of a serious revamp. For now, though, genetically edited mushrooms are setting the pace.