A group of physicians, virologists, and veterinarians at the Mayo Clinic and colaborators in Japan have taken what might seem like an unorthodox approach to fighting aids: genetically modified, glow-in-the-dark cats (!). Published in the most recent issue of Nature Methods, the study produced cats with intrinsic immunity to Feline AIDS, an epidemic among domestic cats, in hopes of using similar methods to fight the AIDS epidemic in humans.
They’re using what’s called a “genome based immunization strategy,” which is kind of like vaccinating your genome. Both humans and cats lack important proteins called restriction factors to fight HIV and FIV. So, the mayo team found a way to insert a gene from rhesus monkeys that produces immunodifficiency virus fighting restriction factors into a cat’s genome. Before the eggs were even fertilized, they shot them up with a gene eloquently named TRIMCyp. They tacked a jellyfish gene on, so that they would be able to see if the monkey gene was expressed. More specifically, they used the gene that codes for green fluorescent protein, which makes jellyfish glow underwater. (Part of me thinks that last bit was partially just for the awesomeness of making fluorescent cats, but I realize that scientists have been making stuff glow ever since they figured out what green fluorescent protein does.) The end result: cats that had the resistance gene, glow green under blue light.
LiveScience has an awesome photo gallery of adorable highlighter-colored cats.
The next step for the researchers will be to expose the kitties to FIV, and see if it works.