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Jellyfish Genes Make Glow-in-the-Dark Cats

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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First there were glow-in-the-dark fish, then rats, rabbits, insects, even pigs. And, now, researchers have inserted the jellyfish genes that make fluorescent proteins into Felis catus, or the common household cat.


The goal was just to make sure that the researchers could successfully insert novel genes into the cats. Past efforts at cloning and injecting DNA into fertilized cat embryos, among other genetic modification techniques, had failed. But the good doctors at the Mayo Clinic and Yamaguchi University in Japan succeeded by injecting a lentivirus bearing the novel genetics directly into unfertilized cat eggs. (Human immunodeficiency viruses 1 and 2 (HIV-1 and HIV-2), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) are all lentiviruses, named for their slow incubation period.)

glowing-catThe result is visible to the naked eye (under blue light).

The goal is to use genetically modified cats as a better proxy for human diseases. After all, FIV plagues cats in much the same way that HIV plagues people. For that reason, cats can serve as useful animal models for learning more about the human version of the disease. The researchers, or their colleagues, plan to continue manipulating the cat genome to test potential gene therapies for HIV and other potential cures for AIDS.

But it’s also only a matter of time until a night-glowing cat (say goodbye to nightlights and tripping over the cat!) becomes a breed and joins the GloFish at the pet store.

Images: © Mayo Clinic


David Biello About the Author: David Biello is the associate editor for environment and energy at Scientific American. Follow on Twitter @dbiello.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. spiderbaby 6:11 pm 09/12/2011

    Okay, how long before I can have a glow-in-the-dark baby?

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  2. 2. Polynumeral 6:50 pm 09/12/2011

    The effect of feral cats on native wildlife is severe.Introducing the glow in the dark gene into the common household cat could possibly help alleviate that problem by reducing their stealth at night.Daytime hunts would most likely be unaffected unless the prey has some vision outside the normal human spectrum.A downside would be that if the gene found it’s way into the entire species,we would condemn the felines to being forever domesticated as it would reduce their ability to survive in the wild.However feral cats are a problem in the wild.

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  3. 3. michalchik 6:53 pm 09/12/2011

    The pictures are fake. Their fur would not glow and you can see the sheets on the left of the right picture glowing. Scientific American should disclose when a photo is simulated or doctored.

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  4. 4. cliveklg 7:01 pm 09/12/2011

    “A downside would be that if the gene found it’s way into the entire species,we would condemn the felines to being forever domesticated”

    They only glow under certain specific lighting conditions. So they wouldn’t be glowing naturally in the wild.

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  5. 5. brynn217 9:29 pm 09/12/2011

    its not actually the fur glowing, it lumiescense, the same stuff they spray to get blood to glow in crime scenes, they are using a type of black light so you can see the glow… since it is attached to DNA and not blood the skin and edges of the hair folcules should glow only under that light, since the hair is white, you can see the skin glowing thru it… the whiskers also glow because they do have nerve endings in them, they are not the same as hair… the sheet glowing in the top pic is a reflection off the cat… I dont think these pictures are doctored…

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  6. 6. fikshun 12:42 am 09/13/2011

    Why yes, genetically-modified animal cruelty sounds like a novel improvement indeed.

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  7. 7. taryndactyl 2:35 am 09/13/2011

    Because genetically-modifying animals is cruel but genetically modified food is acceptable? ^^^^

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  8. 8. goatfarmer 9:16 am 09/13/2011

    America’s 2 favorite and most popular pets? Dogs and cats. Unless the research is EXCLUSIVELY for a dog or cat disease or health condition, pick another animal for scientific research studies. Statistically, more people have real emotional bonds with dogs and cats then any other so please leave them alone. Eventually, you’re going to get into real trouble with this, in spite of your intentions. Thank you.

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  9. 9. bartonlp 2:46 pm 09/13/2011

    How about genetically modified dogs that DON’T BARK. That would be a true breakthrough.

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  10. 10. Outcast3d 7:23 am 09/14/2011

    While I generally agree against testing on animals, I’m surprised that this post doesn’t really mention the fact that the researchers injected proteins from monkeys that block the virus and that modified cells are actually resistant to FIV after this modification. In this case it could benefit the cats greatly if it turns out that it and its offspring as a whole are resistant to FIV. It really is too bad that this post focuses on the novelty of the fluorescent markers. The fluorescent protein gene simply makes it easy to “spot” the trait. This is a proof of concept that could lead to gene therapies to make cats resistant to FIV, and opens the door for an effective HIV cure in humans. Aside from people, cats and chimpanzees are the only mammals that develop the virus that causes AIDS. So, @goatfarmer, while this isn’t EXCLUSIVELY for a cat, it is to their benefit as well as ours. I paraphrased a bit from an MSNBC article that is much more comprehensive.

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