Glowing Cats: A New Meaning for “Green Cat?”

A couple of years ago, I answered questions for Cat Fancy Magazine on how to make pet cats “green,” meaning ecologically friendly.

Now there is a new meaning to the term green cat, these cats glow green.

Photo: Mayo Clinic

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic engineered these cats to help save lives. The green glowing felines are a research model for the study of AIDS. A gene for green fluorescent protein from the jellyfish, Aequorea Victoria, has been inserted into the cats’ DNA and is used as a marker for cells carrying a second gene which confers resistance to the feline version of the AIDS virus, the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). Studying the cats’ resistance to FIV will help scientists learn how to make humans resistant to the AIDS virus.

Glowing cats are not some fad pet. Glowing cats are serious science. So serious that the 2008 Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to three scientists for the study and development of green fluorescent protein.

Fluorescent proteins occur naturally and are not limited to green. Depending on the experimental design, the florescent protein serves as a marker of function, structure or activity. Tracking of the fluorescent labeled molecules, cells or tissues provides scientists a powerful tool for assessing activity of enzymes, movement of cells and function of tissues. Without research tools such as fluorescent animals, advances in science and medicine, both human and veterinary, will cease.

Glowing animals are nothing new. In the mid 1990’s, the roundworm, Caenorhabditis elegans, was engineered to carry the gene for green fluorescent protein. A member of the lowly minnow family from the Indian subcontinent, the zebrafish, contributes to the study of important human diseases such as heart disease, neurologic disease and cancer through genetically engineered fluorescence.

Because of their beauty and wide spectrum of color, fluorescent zebrafish are now commercially available to the home aquarium enthusiast.

In 2007, cats expressing red fluorescent protein were developed by researchers in China.

The genetic trait for glowing can be passed from parent to offspring since kittens born to the red and green fluorescent cats also carry the gene.

Fluorescent animals don’t just help people, they also improve animal health. Veterinarians use green fluorescent protein to study the healing of horse tendons. Bioluminescence using luciferase and yellow fluorescent protein in a mouse model help veterinary researchers improve their knowledge of canine lymphoma. And,the glowing cats of the Mayo Clinic may ultimately help veterinarians to better treat FIV.

While pet owners are happy to have their orange tabby, ruddy Abyssinian, mink Tonkinese or an American shorthair silver tabby, everyone should be happy about green glowing cats since they are helping to improve the health of both man and animals.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

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