Emily Singer

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Fluorescent Cats to Help Fight AIDS

New technology to genetically engineer cats could lead to new treatment for feline AIDS.

  • September 12, 2011

A litter of glowing kittens, produced at the Mayo Clinic, could provide scientists with new methods for studying AIDS. Eric Poeschla and collaborators developed a highly efficient method for genetically engineering cats. They inserted genes—including a gene that glows green—into the eggs of domestic cats prior to fertilization and showed these genes were expressed throughout the body of the resulting animals. The fluorescent cats passed these genes onto their offspring, who also glowed.

A cat genetically engineered to glow green also carries a gene that blocks the virus that causes feline AIDS. Credit: Mayo Clinic

Previously, the only way to genetically engineer cats was through cloning, a highly inefficient process that often results in deformed animals.

Researchers say the technology could help them develop new treatments for both human and feline AIDS. In addition to the fluorescent gene, they added a gene from monkeys that blocks the virus that causes feline AIDS. Preliminary research suggests that infected animals with the gene had lower rates of virus replication in their cells. The research was published today in the journal Nature Methods

According to a press release from the Mayo Clinic;

This specific transgenesis (genome modification) approach will not be used directly for treating people with HIV or cats with FIV, but it will help medical and veterinary researchers understand how restriction factors can be used to advance gene therapy for AIDS caused by either virus.

Scientists have previously created a menagerie of transgenic animals, including rats, rabbits, pigs, cows, goats, dogs, and even monkeys.

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