Glow cats looking for the cure

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.

Transgenic kitten glowing under ultraviolet light, compared with a normal, non-fluorescent control cat (click to embiggen)
A transgenic kitten, seen here glowing under ultraviolet light. It's accompanied by a regular, non-fluorescent, control cat (Image from Mayo Clinic)

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.

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