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Study Produces Positive Steps in HIV/FIV Fight, and Genetically Modified 'Glowing' Cats

Transgenic cat

Transgenic cat

Photo courtesy of Mayo Clinic
  • Transgenic cat
  • Transgenic kitten
  • Transgenic kitten
  • Transgenic cat next to control partner
  • A 'ruppy' or red-puppy
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Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have had research published showcasing 'glowing' cats, part of a larger study targeting on fighting diseases such as AIDS via transgenic manipulation. The not-for-profit medical practice & research group, which has footprints in Minnesota, Arizona and Florida, made the announcement yesterday in a statement to coincide the publication of the findings by their team.

That research team’s findings, authored by Eric M. Poeschla, M.D., who earned his Fellowship in Infectious Diseases at University of California, San Diego, were announced in the September 11 2011 issue of Nature Methods. Although they were initially submitted in April 2011, the submission was accepted just last month. It all circles around a genome-based program that targets diseases at the genetic level, but not in the traditional way that you’d expect. The research uses felines, who have their ‘own’ version of HIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or FIV), which when active, has a similar reaction as humans: depleting the infection-fighting T-cells in the host. The goal of this project was to create intrinsic immunity in cats to FIV, and learn how to do the same in humans.

Mayo Clinic's team created so-called transgenic cats, moving a segment of DNA from one organisim to another. In this case, a splice for a rhesus monkey restriction factor, known to block the cell infection brought on by FIV, was introduced into feline eggs pre fertilization, accompanied by a jellyfish gene which causes the glow for “tracking purposes,” according to a statement by Mayo. The GFP gene inside jellyfish (now inside the cats) produce proteins that fluoresce when illuminated under certain light. "Ruppy" the red-glowing puppy and first transgenic dog, created in 2009 by Byeong-Chun Lee of Seoul National University in South Korea, only glowed when a ultraviolet light was shone. In the case of the cats, blue-green visible light will cause the glow, not ultraviolet, meaning that while it's closer to bioluminesce, you wouldnt see any glow in a dark room with absolutely no light. 

The good news in all this isn’t as much for cat owners visualizing a future of pets that can be easily found at night, but that the genetic rhesus swap worked. Cats with the newly introduced genes were healthy, and produced offspring with cells that made the protein, offering built-in protection in future generations. Eventually, this research will help both humans and felines (wild and domesticated) protect themselves naturally against what would be terminal virus infections like HIV/FIV. Over 30 million people have died from HIV/AIDS; the total death count, and population of felines currently infected with FIV are unknown, but worldwide estimates run at around an active 2.5-4.4% infection range.

The full article, Antiviral Restriction Factor Transgenesis in the Domestic Cat, can be found online here.