Of Glow-In-The-Dark Cats And A Cure For AIDS

Whether it be as a pet or a way to test for AIDS resistance, glowing cats are always handy to have around the lab. Fluorescent cats are now being used to study the resistance of the species to the AIDS virus.

The Feline Version of AIDS

Cats, just like humans, are infected by AIDS and have no resistance against the virus. Scientists decided to study the resistance of a few genetically modified cats to the action of the Feline Immuno-deficiency Virus (FIV), the feline equivalent of the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV). However, the rhesus macaque, a member of the monkey genus, is capable to resisting the AIDS virus. The idea was to inject the restriction factors’ (a set of genes) into the cats and see how the newer generations adapt to this genetic change. In order to track the passage of these antiviral genes throughout the cat’s body, scientists used fluorescent protein extracted from jelly fish. The unimaginatively named Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) acts as a perfect marker and makes the cat, no prizes for guessing, glow with a green fluorescence.

Bright and green! Not to mention, cute.

Immunity As Bright As A Glowing Cat

While it may seem amusing to some, and even macabre to others, GFP is a common way of chromatically tagging cells or tissues in the biotech lab. It is easily available and ¬†gives intense colours around 395 nm (green) wavelength. It is used as a biosensor’, to test whether some inserted genes can be expressed in a particular cell or not.

The antiviral gene and the GFP were both injected into the egg of a female cat. The next generation of cats developed the characteristic glow. Cells taken from these cats were then tested for resistance against FIV and, lo behold, they were indeed found to be resistant.

This is a vital step and might hold the key to finding a cure for the AIDS virus for humans too. The next step in research would be to introduce full-grown injected cats to the AIDS virus and see whether the immunity is multi-cellular or not.

Cats are promising to shed new light on an old menace, in more ways than one.

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Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.