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Can Cats Be Genetically Modified? Is It True There Are Glow in the Dark Cats?

Kit Copson

By Kit Copson

Bioluminiscence Jellyfish Aequorea Victoria

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

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Some cats bring a whole new meaning to the term “glow up” because they quite literally do. It’s 100% true that scientists are able to genetically engineer cats to glow in the dark. They do this by inserting a gene containing the code that carries the green fluorescent protein (GFP). This specific gene comes from jellyfish and is what causes the cats to glow.

While cute jack-o-lantern kitties might be some cat parents’ dream, there’s actually an important reason for such an experiment. In this post, we aim to answer some of your burning questions about genetically-modified, glow-in-the-dark cats.

Why Genetically Modify Cats to Glow in the Dark?

Scientists make genetically modify cats to glow in the dark as part of ongoing research into the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

FIV is the virus that causes feline AIDS. It is a slow-acting virus that attacks the immune system and causes symptoms like fever, lethargy, weight loss, and enlarged lymph nodes. At present, FIV cannot be cured but it can be treated. Though more prone to other diseases as a result of a weakened immune system, treatment means that it’s possible for cats with FIV to live long, normal lives.

While humans cannot catch FIV and cats cannot catch HIV, the two diseases are similar on a biochemical level.

How Does It Work?

When scientists insert the gene that produces the green fluorescent protein into unfertilized egg cells, they also insert an antiviral gene. The egg cells are then transferred to a female cat. In one study, the antiviral gene used came from a rhesus macaque, which is a primate. The gene was selected because it blocks viruses like FIV that cause AIDS in cats.

The reason for inserting the green fluorescent protein gene alongside the antiviral gene is simple—to make sure the experiment has worked. When the cats glow, it is used as a marker to show that they have the anti-FIV gene.

Ultimately, scientists hope that this research into FIV will also give them insights into how to protect humans from AIDS.

Does Genetically Modifying Cats to Glow Harm Them?

Betsy Dresser, Director of Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species said that there was nothing cruel about the process of creating glow-in-the-dark cats. She also mentioned that the cats are unaware that they glow in the dark. She was speaking of Mr. Green Genes, the first fluorescent cat in the U.S.

Dr. Eric Poeschler said that the five glowing kittens born after a Mayo Clinic experiment were “completely normal—frisky, happy, healthy, and interactive.” He also said that the glowing did not seem to affect them at all.

It would appear that as long as the cats undergoing the transplantation procedure are well-treated and kept in a cruelty-free environment, there isn’t anything cruel about the procedure in itself.

Which Animals Have Been Genetically Modified to Glow?

Cats are not the only animals to have been genetically engineered to glow in the dark. Other animals that have been used in similar research include:

  • Sheep
  • Pigs
  • Mice
  • Rabbits
  • Fish
  • Monkeys
  • Dogs
  • Chickens
  • Rats

Final Thoughts

Genetic modification is a sometimes controversial topic in terms of ethics. It appears, however, that there may be a lot of positive things about this kind of genetic modification. It’s a procedure done for a very good cause and according to experts, doesn’t cause suffering to the feline subjects.

If it sheds some light on how to protect cats and humans from AIDS in the future and doesn’t harm the cats involved, surely it can only be a good thing.

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Featured Image Credit: THAIFINN, Shutterstock

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