Glow-in-the-dark cats help with AIDS research

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester are using glow-in-the-dark cats in the fight against AIDS.

The clinic announced Sunday that researchers have developed a genome-based immunization strategy to fight feline AIDS and find ways to combat human HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

Researchers said the goal is to create cats with intrinsic immunity to the feline AIDS virus. The findings appear in the current online issue of Nature Methods.

“One of the best things about this biomedical research is that it is aimed at benefiting both human and feline health,” said Eric Poeschla, M.D., a Mayo molecular biologist and leader of the international study, in a statement. “It can help cats as much as people.”

Mayo researchers paired a gene from a fluorescent jellyfish to track another gene, called rhesus macaque restriction factor. The former gene makes the offspring cats glow green and the latter is known to resist the development of the feline AIDS virus.

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) causes AIDS in cats as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) does in people: by depleting the body’s infection-fighting T-cells. This was the first time this method succeeded in a carnivore, according to Mayo.

Researchers aimed to mimic the way evolution normally gives rise over vast time spans to protective protein versions.

The method for inserting genes into the feline genome is highly efficient, so that virtually all offspring have the genes, according to Mayo. And the defense proteins are made throughout the cat’s body. Mayo officials said the cats with the protective genes are thriving and have produced kittens whose cells make the proteins, thus proving that the inserted genes remain active in successive generations.

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