Black cats may be unlucky, but what about a glowing cat?
Phosphorescent felines were created by Mayo Clinic researchers to help in the fight against AIDS in both cats and humans. The cats were genetically engineered to carry a protein that defends them from infection by the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), the cat version of HIV.
The cats glow because of a jellyfish gene inserted along with the FIV-resistance gene. If the genetically modified mouser glowed an eerie green, the researchers knew it was also resistant to FIV.
"One of the best things about this biomedical research is that it is aimed at benefiting both human and feline health," says Eric Poeschla, molecular biologist at the Mayo Clinic and lead author of the study published in Nature Methods.
"It can help cats as much as people," said Poeschla in a press release.
The gene that protected the transgenic tabbies from FIV was originally from a type of monkey, the rhesus macaque. Since cross-breeding a cat and a monkey was impossible (not to mention even weirder and creepier than a glowing cat) the scientists had to use genetic engineering to put the rhesus' genetic pieces into the cats.
They used a technique known as gamete-targeted lentiviral transgenesis. The tongue-twister technique involved inserting the desired gene into the cat's eggs before sperm fertilization.
The resulting kittens produced the macaque's protein, a restriction factor known as TRIMCyp, as well as the jellyfish's glow in the dark chemical, known as green fluorescent protein.
Not only did the first generation of kittens come out luminescent and FIV-resistant, the new genes were passed on to their offspring. The phosphorescent fur-balls were healthy and thriving, report the Mayo Clinic scientists.
Though this technique is not a direct treatment for FIV, HIV, or AIDS, it will help researchers understand how the proteins known as restriction factors can be used in gene therapy. Since FIV is similar to HIV, the luminescent cats could shed light on treatments for both diseases.
As cool as having a glowing cat would be, don't expect to see phosphorescent felines at the pet store. Genetically engineering pets is highly controversial, and the Mayo researchers made these cats solely to help the fight against AIDS, not to be awesome additions to a Halloween party.
One of the glowing cats from the Mayo Clinic study (Mayo Clinic)
The paw of a glowing cat (Mayo Clinic)