Scientists have created genetically-modified cats that glow in the dark. That’s right, glow-in-the-dark cats! But these bio-luminescent felines weren’t created simply to make Internet users happy — they were made to help save lives.
A protein called GFP, which is commonly found in jellyfish, was added to the cats’ genetic makeup in order to allow researchers to learn more about the deadly AIDS virus and other serious human illnesses, reports the BBC. The addition of GFP lets scientists track the activity of altered genes.
“We did it to mark cells easily just by looking under the microscope or shining a light on the animal,” said Dr. Eric Poeschla, of the renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, New York, who led the study.
In addition to GFP, the cats were also given another altered gene, which is intended to help their bodies fight against feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), which is the feline version of human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.
Like HIV, FIV eliminates an infected cat’s ability to fight against illnesses. But some monkeys, who have their own form of immunodeficiency virus, are naturally able to fight back against the immune system-killing virus, and resist infection. It is one of these monkeys, the rhesus macaque, from which the antiviral gene given to the glowing cats is derived.
So far, Dr. Poeschla and his team have only tested cells from the genetically modified cats — they haven’t yet infected the poor kitties themselves with the deadly FIV. Luckily, all the cells they’ve tested so far have proven resistant to FIV infection. And if the study shows further success, it could give important clues into how HIV/AIDS affects humans, which could eventually lead to a cure of the disastrous illness.
Despite the serious, necessary and noble nature of HIV/AIDS research, something tells us that most people are going to be far more excited by the potential for glow-in-the-dark kittens than they are of curing a human plague.