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Science Note - Cats Illuminate HIV Research

Air Date: Week of

Kitten embryos are genetically modified before being implanted in a surrogate mother. The mother does not glow, but her babies do. (Photo: Courtesy of Mayo Clinic)

Feline immunodeficiency virus or FIV affects domestic cats the same way HIV affects humans. Scientists are developing gene therapy treatment that may offer immunity to the virus and that also has glow-in-the-dark results. Living on Earth’s Jack Rodolico reports.



RODOLICO: What do you get when you mix the genes of a cat, a monkey and a jellyfish? No, this isn’t a bad joke. Put those genes together and you get glow-in-the-dark kittens that may provide a new treatment for HIV.

Outstretched claws of a newborn kitten. (Photo: Courtesy of Mayo Clinic)

Domestic cats have their own version of HIV - Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, or FIV, is considered an epidemic. It attacks a kitty’s immune system the same way HIV attacks ours. So scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota are studying the virus in cats to look for treatments for humans.

A “normal” cat stands next to a genetically modified cat under blue light. (Photo: Courtesy of Mayo Clinic)

Researchers already knew macaques – a kind of monkey – are immune to FIV, and they wanted to see if they could transfer that immunity to felines. So they put those FIV-resistant monkey genes into kitten embryos.

And if that’s not weird enough, they decided to add jellyfish genes to trace the macaque genes. The jellyfish genes are iridescent, so if the new batch of kittens glow under blue light, that means the scientists successfully implanted the monkey genes.

Now this isn’t the first experiment with jellyfish genes. There’ve been glowing bugs, fish, rabbits and pigs. But this is the first glow-in-the-dark study that could lead to gene therapy treatments for the FIV and HIV epidemics. In the meantime, the neon kitties are frisky, healthy, and not for sale. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science, I’m Jack Rodolico.



Link to article published by Nature Methods


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