UNIVERSITY PARK, Penn.—While biomolecule-based therapeutics offer the potential of increased efficacy with reduced non-specific activity compared to small-molecule drugs, their production at scales approximating that of medical chemistry remains a challenge. For many products, bioproduction in organisms like plants and animals seems to be the key, but shuffling the appropriate genes has been a challenge.
Recently, however, researchers at Penn State University (PSU) developed a way to introduce genes for therapeutic biomolecules into mushrooms that is very similar to the mechanism of gene transfer between bacteria. The researchers first introduced the gene of interest into Agrobacterium, and then co-culture mushroom cells with the bacteria, during which time, gene transfer occurs. They then kill off any unmodified mushroom cells.
"With mushrooms, we can use commercial technology to convert the vegetative tissue from mushroom strains stored in the freezer into vegetative seed," says PSU plant pathologist Dr. Charles Peter Romaine. "A crop from which drugs may be extracted could be ready in weeks."
To date, the researchers have transferred an antibiotic resistance gene, but don't expect any difficulties in transferring other biopharmaceutical genes such as insulin. PSU holds the patent for the technology, which is exclusively licensed to biotechnology company Agariger, Inc., cofounded by Romaine.