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Modified mushrooms may yield human drugs

Mushrooms might serve as biofactories for the production of various beneficial human drugs, according to plant pathologists who have inserted new genes into mushrooms.

"There has always been a recognized potential of the mushroom as being a choice platform for the mass production of commercially valuable proteins," said Charles Peter Romaine, who holds the John B. Swayne Chair in spawn science and professor of plant pathology at Penn State. "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."

Dr. Romaine and his colleague, Xi Chen, then a post-doctoral scholar at Penn State and now a Syngenta Biotechnology Inc. research scientist, have developed a technique to genetically modify Agaricus bisporus -- the button variety of mushroom, which is the predominant edible species worldwide. One application of their technology is the use of transgenic mushrooms as factories for producing therapeutic proteins, such as vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, and hormones like insulin, or commercial enzymes, such as cellulase 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," Dr. 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."

To create transgenic mushrooms, 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.

The hygromycin resistance gene is a marker gene to help sort out the transgenic mushroom cells from the non-transgenic cells, Dr. Romaine expla
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Source:Penn State


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