Don’t adjust the settings on your screen – that really is a glow-in-the-dark cat you’re seeing! First unveiled to the world in September of 2011, this is one of three genetically modified cats created by researchers at the Mayo Clinic. The purpose of the study is to learn about how different proteins can be used in the fight against AIDs. Cats are not the first animals to be given this glowing mark of identification; Other studies have produced genetically modified dogs, mice, pigs, monkeys, rabbits, and more.
Why Genetically Modified Cats?
As many cat lovers know, humans are not the only ones fighting an AIDS epidemic. There is a version of HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) called FIV running rampant throughout the feline species as well. Both the HIV virus and the FIV virus work by using healthy immune system cells of the host to replicate themselves. This causes a slow dying of the immune system of the host and thus an inability to fight off disease and infection.
Do you know anyone with FIV (by anyone I mean humans)? Of course not, humans are not susceptible to FIV – neither are monkeys. Why not? Humans and monkeys have this cool little protein in their genes called TRIMCyp that renders FIV harmless to them.
To see if TRIMCyp would be effective in fighting off FIV in cats, researchers at the Mayo Clinic decided infuse TRIMCyp proteins from monkeys into the genes of cats. The glow you see is actually from a protein in jellyfish called GFP. GFP was also infused into the cats’ genes so that researchers would have a non-evasive way to identify cats that had received the TRIMCyp proteins.
How Did They Do It?
First, researchers created a virus. The virus contained the TRIMCyp from the monkeys as well as the GFP from the jellyfish. Eggs from the female cat were infected with the newly created virus and then fertilized with normal cat sperm. The fertilized eggs were injected into the fallopian tubes of female cats and the rest was left to nature. Out of the dozens of fertilized eggs, three kittens survived and appear to be perfectly healthy. Researchers say that there is no difference between these cats and any other except that these cats glow green under ultra violet light.
So far there are only limited findings. Blood from the kittens was exposed to FIV and the TRIMCyp did seem to reduce replication of the virus. Researchers plan to expose the cats to FIV at a later time to see just how resistant they are. The hope is that this study can shed some light on how to fight both FIV and HIV.
Those Opposed to Genetically Modified Cats
The idea of using genetically modified cats for AIDS research has some Animal Rights Activists up in arms. The Nation AntiVivesection Society feels strongly that this research is not truly relevant to the fight against HIV. They also feel that this research does little to help FIV suffering cats because these genes must be infused into the cat before they are born. Others in opposition worry that a fad for glowing cats will result in animal abuse. The fear is that the current rarity of the animals would lead to abusive breeding of the genetically modified cats.