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Mushroom Biofactories May Produce Beneficial Human Drugs

By Bob Ewing     Jun 23, 2007 in Science
There is nothing magical about it, Penn State, researchers are injecting new genes into mushrooms in order to create products such as vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, and hormones like insulin, or commercial enzymes
The well known button mushroom may be on its way to becoming a biofactory which will produce a variety of drugs that will be of benefit to humans. The button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) is the predominant edible species worldwide.
"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."
- Charles Peter Romaine, professor of plant pathology at Penn State.
The technology that is being used to turn the button mushroom into a biofactory was developed by Romaine and Xii Chen, who was a post-doctoral scholar at Penn State, during the research and development process of the technology. The technology that is being used has been patented by Penn State and Agariger, Inc. has an exclusive license to develop the technology.
The genetically altered mushroom can be used as a factory for the production of therapeutic proteins, for example, vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, and hormones such as insulin, or commercial enzymes, such as cellulose for biofuels.
"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," Romaine said. "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."
Researchers attach a gene that bestows resistance to hygromycin which is an antibiotic, to circular pieces of bacterial DNA called plasmid. The plasmid has the ability to multiply within a bacterium known as Agrobacterium. A plasmid is a DNA molecule separate from the chromosomal DNA and capable of autonomous replication. Agrobacterium is a genus of bacteria that causes tumors in plants.
"What we are doing is taking a gene, as for example a drug gene, that is not part of the mushroom, and camouflaging it with regulatory elements from a mushroom gene. We then patch these genetic elements in the plasmid and insert it back into the bacterium,"
According to Romaine, mushroom, unlike other plants that have long growth cycles. This allows the manufacturer to use commercial technology to convert vegetative tissue, from mushroom strains, stored in the freezer, into vegetative seed. This means that the manufacturer can create drugs, which are ready for the market within weeks.
Another bottom line bonus is that a mushroom based biofactory will not require the expensive infrastructure that other produces do. This will lower the production costs and possible increase the profit that can be taken from this enterprise.
Genetic manipulation concerns me, especially when there is no information available about the source of the gene that is being introduced into the mushroom. The original article refers to a drug gene but offers no more information. Now this is a proprietary product and there is no obligation to provide the public and the competition with this detail but I’d still like to know the source before I celebrate this technology.
More about Mushrooms, Drugs, Human health