GM fungus breach investigated

Authorities are investigating a potential breach of GM requirements at Lincoln University following the discovery of a genetically modified fungus outside of approved containment laboratories.

Icing sugar fungus, Cordyceps bassiana - Kete New Plymouth
Cicada infected with Beauveria bassiana. Credit: Phil Bendle

Lincoln University researchers informed Ministry for Primary Industries and the Environmental Protection Agency on 7 March that it had evidence to suggest a fungus (Beauveria bassiana also known as Icing Sugar Fungus) that had been supplied to it for research was potentially a strain modified genetically to include a marker so it could be traced in plants.

The fungus had been believed to have been a wild strain that is already present in the environment and so was being researched in restricted laboratories but outside approved GM containment facilities.

Lincoln University, MPI and the EPA have issued media releases regarding the investigation into the strain of the fungus.

MPI is working with Lincoln University to make sure that all of the known samples and plant materials containing the fungus have been contained or destroyed.

The EPA’s principal scientist, Dr Geoff Ridley, says the potential risk to humans or animals is very low.

“There is no evidence to suggest that genetic modifications that may have been made to the fungus in these labs have increased any health or environmental risk.”

B. bassiana is a fungus that occurs naturally in soils throughout the world (including New Zealand) and infects a wide range of insect species and is used as a biological insecticide to control a number of insect pests.

Examples of New Zealand coverage:

TVNZ News: Genetically modified fungus escapes university lab
Otago Daily Times: Potential GM outbreak at university
NZ Herald: Possible GM outbreak at Lincoln University investigated
Newstalk ZB: Ministry alerted after fungus sample incident