Insight into AIDS from glowing cats13th September 2011
Genetically modified cats that glow in the dark are forming part
of a study into feline AIDS, as part of research into the disease in
both cats and humans.
The cats are taking part in the study
because of similarities between cat AIDS, caused by the Feline
Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and human AIDS, caused by the Human
Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
In both species, the virus depletes the body's infection-fighting T-cells.
The Mayo Clinic research team wanted to explore the use of a natural protein that can prevent the development of AIDS in macaque monkeys would work in cats.
The team included doctors, vets, virologists, and gene therapy researchers, with some colleagues based in Japan.
They first devised a way to insert effective monkey genes into the eggs of cats before they were fertilised, in a technique known as gamete-targeted lentiviral transgenesis.
They gave the cat ovum genes from a rhesus macaque that would block cell infection with FIV, and a jellyfish gene to make the cats glow green, which would help with tracking.
The genetic material from the macaque is able to help the cat ward off FIV by attacking and neutralising the outer shield of the virus as it tries to invade a cell.
Study leader Eric Poeschla said the research could help cats as much as it did humans.
Published in the journal Nature Methods, the study is aimed at benefiting both human and feline health.
Poeschla said the jellyfish glow factor marked up cells easily so that researchers could observe cells directly or under a microscope.
Nearly all of the cloned offspring from the modified eggs had the restriction factor, and went on to produce the proteins throughout their bodies.
The cats also showed reduced replication of FIV, which plagues around half a billion feral cats around the world.
FIV is transmitted mostly by biting, often during fights between territorial tom-cats.
However, some pets have also become infected.
The researchers tested cells taken from the cats at the end of the study and found that they had become resistant to FIV.
But they said they also planned to expose the cats to the virus, and see if they became infected.
The results could yield valuable data about protecting humans from HIV, Poeschla said.
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