Scientists Create FrankenKitty: A Cat That Glows in the Dark

glowing-kitten cat green glow in the dark mayo clinic FIV HIV

Those darn kooky scientists have been up to more mischief.  I can picture it, one night after working their brains out, they decide to take a well deserved break. The doctors headed to the local watering hole, the Mexican Mayo, where feeling especially deserving of a rewarding time-off from cell-splitting and gene-mapping, made the mistake of ordering several pitchers of ice-cold, flourescent green Margarita’s.

The trouble began when Gene (his real name) lost his car keys somewhere after betting a colleague he could beat him at a game of Quarters. Stumbling back to the lab, drunk as a skunk, he tripped over the office mascot, Miss Kitty.

glowing-kitten cat green glow in the dark feline mayo clinic FIV HIV

Madder than a hornet, he made up his mind then and there to solve the problem. Remembering the success of creating the glow-in-the-dark-pig, he decided that a glow-in-the-dark-kitty would be his ticket to winning the Nobel Prize Lotto.

And so, much to Miss Kitty’s surprise, her next batch of kittens could glow in the dark. Gene’s memory of the groundbreaking achievement in medical science is, unfortunately, a hazy mish-mash of flourescent lime green Margarita’s, missing car keys and a fat lip from tripping over Miss Kitty in the dark.

glowing kitten cat green glow in the dark feline mayo clinic FIV HIV

Swearing off Margarita’s and giving up on the hope of ever recovering his Mercedes that was stolen by the guy who found his car keys, Gene explained the science behind Miss Kitty’s glow-in-the-dark kittens:  The team investigating a macaque gene thought to protect monkeys against feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) inserted it into cat eggs with a lab-grown virus, intending to test whether cats carrying the gene were resistant to FIV as well. They were interested in seeing how the macaque gene guards against FIV, which is the feline version of HIV, in hopes of transferring their insights to combating HIV.

glowing-kitten cat green glow in the dark feline mayo clinic FIV HIV

Now sober, Gene articulated, in a language known only to total brains, the technique is called gamete-targeted lentiviral transgenesis — essentially, inserting genes into feline oocytes (eggs) before sperm fertilization. Succeeding with it for the first time in a carnivore, the team inserted a gene for a rhesus macaque restriction factor known to block cell infection by FIV, as well as a jellyfish gene for tracking purposes. The latter makes the offspring cats glow green.

glowing-kitten cat green glow in the dark feline mayo clinic FIV HIV

Explaining the evolution of Miss Kitty’s kittens, the scientists explain that originally, a litter of three cats were bred to display the luminescence, though at least one has since passed the glowing genes on to a new generation — but they don’t glow quite as brightly as their parents.

“One of the best things about this biomedical research is that it is aimed at benefiting both human and feline health,” says Eric Poeschla, M.D., Mayo molecular biologist and leader of the international study. “It can help cats as much as people.” He added that, “We want to see if by protecting the domestic cat against FIV,  we can protect any species, eventually including ours.”

fluorescent-cats-glowing-kitten cat green glow in the dark feline mayo clinic FIV HIV

Note:  The real scientists who did this amazing research (who never went to a bar called the Mexican Mayo) were Pimprapar Wongsrikeao, Dyana Saenz, Tommy Rinkoski, Takeshige Otoi & Eric Poeschla of the Mayo Clinic and. And no, there is no such person as Gene or Miss Kitty, I made that part up, silly.

fluorescent-cats-transgenic kitten glow in the dark journal nature


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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, the author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and consumer advisor. Help support her work by making a donation today.

Comments (9) Write a comment

  1. Pingback: Immortality Through Nouns and Other News of the Week | CATERPICKLES

    • Thanks for the honor!

      I’m deeply grateful, as I was beginning to wonder why I even bother with this blogging thing. The topic is so utterly depressing.

      My next article is going to expose a pretty nasty side of pet food. I hate doing this, it is so disturbing. No wonder most people give up on the whole commercial pet food reporting thing.

      It’s times like these when I wish I was still in my fashion bubble. I may have been unaware, but at least I wasn’t burdened with reality! I think it’s time I get back into fashion illustration, this time with cats and dogs in the drawings! I can do both.

      What field are you in? I know a catshionista when I see one!


    • I know, it was frightening and scary cute, but when I found out they were doing it to help cats with FIV – I was like – right on! I had a laugh writing up the imagined scenario. I’m still waiting for them to write me and tell me it’s all true and how the Hell did I find out? Har dee ha har.


  2. Hi Moll,

    Another great story! Wow, you really turn them out. I always look forward to the postings, not because I’m an eco cat-freak, but just because I love your “reporting” style! You go, girl!



    • Gee thanks, sis. I just write what comes into my noggin, no planning, no structure, no editing, just spell-check. My grammar is atrocious, I’m sure. I just hope I gave the story a unique “spin”. I couldn’t write it straight if I tried. My kooky imagination won’t let me.

      When I saw those glowing cats, I immediately thought of how the glow-in-the-dark cats might have come to be. I was reminded of my own episodes, stumbling home in Yelapa without a flashlight, drunk as a skunk, arriving home bruised and pissed. I imagined the scientist struggling to get back to the Clinic without a flashlight and tripping over the lab cat his idea was born.

      Your complements mean a great deal to me, as you are an educated lady, a smart woman, my sister and you’re married to a writer. Gulp.

      Thanks again!! It means the world to me!! Love, Mollie


  3. I was excited (and a little freaked out) to see this story on the t.v. news a couple nights ago. I don’t care for the glowing aspect, but I’m all for any cure for FIV, HIV, & AIDS.


    • You have TV? No, seriously, it was on TV? Damn! I just about flipped when I saw the pics today on the net of those itsy-bitsy teensy-weensy bright green kitten toes and nails. I thought I was going to explode from the adorkableness of it all.

      I believe the scientists at the Mayo Clinic love those cats. Personally, I love any doctor who wants to help cats. And I have to believe that their goal to find the answer to solving the mystery of the immunodeficiency virus is a sincere and noble one.

      I read enough to make my head hurt, and it’s utterly fascinating. This is groundbreaking work.

      I had fun poking fun at the imaginary scenario that led to the “invention” of the glow-in-the-dark-cat. God, I hope no one thinks I’m serious. Hopefully, the readers have TV and know it is a real story, my version is just…a little creative, shall we say?

      I’m sure the doctors would think it’s pretty funny, at least I hope they have a sense of humor! You know how those whacky, fun-loving scientists love a good joke.



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