Transgenic Mushrooms as Drug Biofactories


Genetically engineered mushrooms may serve as biofactories for the production of various drugs beneficial to humans.

Dr. Charles Peter Romaine and colleagues at Penn State have been able to develop a technique to genetically modify Agaricus bisporus — the button variety of mushroom, which is the predominant edible species worldwide.

The transgenic mushrooms can then be used as factories for the production of therapeutic proteins, such as vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, and hormones like insulin, or commercial enzymes, such as cellulase for biofuels.

According to Dr. Charles Peter Romaine, who holds the John B. Swayne Chair in spawn science and professor of plant pathology at Penn State:

“There has always been a recognized potential of the mushroom as being a choice platform for the mass production of commercially valuable proteins. Mushrooms could make the ideal vehicle for the manufacture of biopharmaceuticals to treat a broad array of human illnesses. But nobody has been able to come up with a feasible way of doing that.”

Right now medical treatment exists for about 500 diseases and genetic disorders, but thanks to the human genome project, before long, new drugs will be available for thousands of other diseases. We need a new way of mass-producing protein-based drugs, which is economical, safe, and fast. We believe mushrooms are going to be the platform of the future.”

The researchers attached a gene that confers resistance to hygromycin (an antibiotic) to circular pieces of bacterial DNA called plasmids, which have the ability to multiply within a bacterium known as Agrobacterium – and produced the transgenic mushroom.

The said technology is patented by Penn State and Agariger, Inc. has an exclusive license to develop the technology – a company co-founded by Dr. Romaine.


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