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Green Glowing Cats Key to Fighting AIDS?
September 12, 2011
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Cat Medical Fact: Other than chimpanzees and humans, cats are the only mammals prey to a virus that can turn into AIDS. And according to a new study in the journal Nature Methods, unfertilized cat eggs that have been genetically altered with virus-blocking monkey genes can produce kitties that grow into cats who are resistant to feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

Which is great. Dr. Eric Poeschla of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who led the study, told Reuters: "This provides the unprecedented capability to study the effects of giving AIDS-protection genes into an AIDS-vulnerable animal." It's easy to see how a development like this can help cats and advance HIV research for humans.

But in a twist that seems straight out of a B-movie, the test subject cats glow bright green. It's not an odd side effect of the work, it was purposeful; in addition to the monkey genes, researchers inserted a green fluorescent jellyfish protein into the eggs that makes the modified cells glow green.

"We did it to mark cells easily just by looking under the microscope or shining a light on the animal," said Dr. Poeschla.

Although the sight of these green glowing cats is surprising, it turns out the jellyfish protein trick is actually an accepted - and lauded - research tool.

In 2008, three scientists shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry for discovering and developing green fluorescent protein (GFP).

At the time of the announcement, the Nobel Prize people likened GFP's impact on scientific research to the invention of the microscope, saying: "The green light enables scientists to track, amongst other things, how cancer tumours form new blood vessels, how Alzheimer's disease kills brain neurons and how HIV infected cells produce new viruses."

And now GFP has given us AIDS-fighting supercats. Definitely Nobel-worthy.

For a more thorough explanation of how the cell colouring process works, check out this illustrated presentation on the Nobel Prize site.


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