Cats are stealthy animals, sneaking around at night hunting prey, so glowing in the dark might not seem terribly useful. But if it protects them from cat AIDS, maybe it’s not such a bad thing.
OK, so we’re not talking about ordinary cats. These are transgenic cats, genetically modified organisms that were given a gene from rhesus macaque monkeys that blocks infection by the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), a close relative of HIV.
They were also given a jellyfish gene that causes them to glow under ultraviolet light. This makes a handy marker to distinguish cats that are carrying altered genes from those that aren’t.
The big success was that when the cats reproduced, the new genes were passed on to their offspring, creating glow-in-the-dark, FIV-resistant kittens.
Although the technique used to create these fluorescent felines can’t actually be used to treat infected humans or cats, it does point the way for medical – and veterinary – researchers to develop possible gene therapies.
- Wongsrikeao P, Saenz D, Rinkoski T, Otoi T & Poeschla E 2011, “Antiviral restriction factor transgenesis in the domestic cat”, Nature Methods, no. 8, pp. 853–859 (doi:10.1038/nmeth.1703)
- Mayo Clinic teams with glowing cats against AIDS, other diseases.