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  • Elaine Marie

Designer Cats

Would you like to have a cat that doesn't kill the birds that visit the feeder on your back deck or one that won't make you sneeze? What about a pet that lives longer because it is free of age-related diseases? Or one that glows in the dark? These seemingly far-fetched ideas may become reality in the near future, as humans tinker with animals' genetic codes in an effort to to customize certain traits and characteristics.

Some of the tinkering is less obtrusive, such as gene therapy which involves modifications that return the animal to a normal, disease-free state. An example is the research efforts of Rejuvenate Bio; a company studying treatment of mitral valve disease in dogs. Rejuvenate Bio's method is to insert an extra gene into a dog's cells that signals production of a protein that slows causes of heart failure. A patent application has been filed to protect this technology (U.S. Patent Publication No. 20190345224). Gene therapy may also be used to combat kidney failure, obesity and diabetes. If these diseases can be mitigated, your pet may live longer.

But some research being done is more obtrusive, and could potentially create an animal with enhanced traits or characteristics not found in nature. Love cats but don't own one because they make you sneeze? Felix Pets LLC may have the solution for you - a genetically modified cat, engineered to lack the allergen that vexes humans. The Colorado company has filed a patent application claiming a method for creating a feline embryonic stem cell where the gene sequence coding for the pesky allergen is modified, inactivated or removed. U.S. Patent Publication No. 20200008405 published on January 9, 2020 details the invention.

Going even further away from Mother Nature's model for a cat, Mayo Clinic scientists have developed glow-in-the-dark cats by inserting the gene that makes jellyfish glow into cats. They were created not as a mere intellectual exercise, but instead for a specific research purpose - the glow-in-the-dark gene was inserted into certain cats along with a gene to block feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). If the cat glowed, the glow provided evidence that the anti-FIV gene was operational. But because glow-in-the-dark cats do not exist in nature, this type of research brings thoughts of "Frankenpets" to mind.

1 Comment

Apr 06, 2020

Interesting and informative article which calls to mind the regret recently expressed by Wally Conron vis-a-vis creating the Labradoodle breed, “I opened a Pandora’s box and released a Frankenstein’s monster.” (The Washington Post, 9/25/19)

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