Glow-in-the-Dark Cats Help In Fight Against AIDS

Researchers have genetically engineered phosphorescent felines to aid researchers in the fight against AIDS, for both cats and humans.

Just in time for Halloween, researchers from the Mayo Clinic have genetically engineered glow-in-the-dark cats.

Many may ask why anyone would want to make cats glow an eerie green. The answer may be surprising: the phosphorescent felines are aiding researchers in the fight against AIDS, in both cats and humans.

Cats and humans are both susceptible to diseases of the immune system, the cat version of HIV being feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

The Mayo Clinic researchers genetically engineered the cats to carry a protein to defend them from infection by FIV, and the glow (caused by a jellyfish gene which was inserted into the cats along with the FIV-resistance gene) indicates if the treatment worked; if the cat glows, then it is defended against FIV.

"One of the best things about this biomedical research is that it is aimed at benefiting both human and feline health," reported lead author of the study, Eric Poeschla, molecular biologist at the Mayo Clinic. "It can help cats as much as people.”

The researchers inserted the cats with a protective gene that was actually from a type of monkey originally, the rhesus macaque. Cross-breeding a cat and a monkey would be impossible, so the scientists decided to use put the monkey’s genetics in the cats with genetic engineering.

They utilized a technique known as gamete-targeted lentiviral transgenesis, which entails incorporating the particular gene from the monkey into the cat's eggs prior to fertilization.

The researchers observed that the kittens born from this experiment were not only healthy, but also were luminescent and FIV-resistant; further, they were excited to report that the protective genes were passed on to their offspring.

The researchers reported that this technique is not a direct treatment for FIV, HIV, or AIDS, but it will aid them in comprehending how the proteins known as restriction factors can be used in gene therapy. As FIV is very similar to HIV, the glowing felines may lead to better treatments for both diseases in the long run.

The study was published in Nature Methods.