Marketers say the idea of a non-browning mushroom developed through gene-editing techniques is intriguing, although few seem to know if consumers will accept the idea.
Penn State University professor Yinong Yang developed the anti-browning mushroom using a gene-editing tool called CRISPR. Researchers have said the technology - discovered about four years ago - could be used to bring produce and other crops to market with improvements in yield, disease resistance, longer shelf life, higher nutrient content and other attributes.
What kind of control regulators exercise over the technology remains to be seen, although, in June, the Genetic Literacy Project reported that USDA's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service had informed DuPont Pioneer that it would not be regulating a Pioneer CRISPR-generated corn hybrid.
Eventually, CRISPR technology could be used to bring fruits, vegetables and other crops to the market with improvements aimed at growers and consumers, researchers say.
Consumers also will have a say in whether the technology moves forward in mushroom production, marketers say.
"The consumer will decide," said Bill St. John, sales director of Gonzales, Texas-based Kitchen Pride Mushroom Farms Inc.
The possibilities that CRISPR offers are interesting, though, St. John said.
"Especially white mushrooms have an especially short shelf life - the browning kind of turns people away," he said.
Mushrooms that retain a fresher look longer could reduce shrink, St. John said.
"With the product looking better longer, it could help both retailers and consumers," he said.
Whether that translates to more demand remains to be seen, St. John said.
Assuming that CRISPR technology is as effective in actual production conditions as it is in a laboratory setting, it still faces some hurdles, said Vince Versagli, sales director with Kennett Square, Pa.-based South Mill Mushroom Sales and Kaolin Mushroom Farms Inc.
For one thing, he said, growers need to know and understand more about a gene-edited strain of mushroom.
"As I understand the CRISPR method of gene editing, no other characteristics of the organism should change. However, we need to feel confident there has been enough testing to know that there are no negative effects to cropping factors and productivity expectations," he said.
Second, no one knows whether the consuming public will accept a gene-edited mushroom, Versagli said.
"Justifiably or not - I think, not - GMO food items are viewed negatively by a wide segment of consumers driven by much negative publicity - most unjustified - and by regional legislation seeking to limit or ban GMO items," he said.
"This mushroom will be looked on by consumers as a GMO item even though the CRISPR technology does not introduce genetic material taken from a different organism as does the traditional method of gene splicing/replacement.