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.

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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.

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