As the quest for a cure to Aids continues to offer hope to millions suffering from one of the world's most devastating health epidemics, it's also producing some particularly peculiar sights along the way. Scientists studying how genetic engineering could help combat HIV infection have successfully birthed a litter of kittens spliced with virus-resilient DNA from a monkey, along with luminescent genes of a jellyfish -- producing cats that literally glow in the dark and that one day may help save countless lives.According to a report from the Mayo Clinic, the study's focus is on curing a form of feline Aids, which, if successful, could have wider implication on how the disease impacts humans as well. Mayo researchers inserted a protein from rhesus macaque monkeys that prevents Aids in that species, paired along with the genes of jellyfish which acts as a visual marker that helps track the engineered progress, all the while giving the kitties a glowing appearance.
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.
The macaque restriction factor, TRIMCyp, blocks FIV by attacking and disabling the virus's outer shield as it tries to invade a cell. The researchers know that works well in a culture dish and want to determine how it will work in vivo.
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.
While the scientific community, particularly those working tirelessly to find a cure for Aids in humans, have largely lauded the potential impact of the study which might one day be used to reduce the transmission of the disease in humans, others are a bit more apprehensive about the testing. So far, no adverse effects have been observed in the cats as a result of their tinkered-with DNA, but experts warn that some intended consequences may still arrise in future generations.
Not to mention, the glowing cats' nocturnal mouse hunting abilities are bound to be negatively affected.
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