Last week South Korean scientists reported that they had successfully cloned cats whose genes had been altered so that they 'glow-in-the-dark' under UV light. It is hoped that the ability to alter genes in this way may help scientists discover how to make more complicated gene changes, allowing them to artificially create animals with human genetic diseases for carrying out research into new treatments or cures.
The discovery, made by researchers at Gyeongsang National University, is significant because - with a duo of glow-in-the-dark cats as living proof - it marks the first time that scientists have successfully altered the genetic code of cloned cats.
'This technology can be applied to clone animals suffering from the same diseases as humans', Kong Il-keun, who led the research, told AFP. 'It will also help develop stem cell treatments', he said, noting that cats have some 250 kinds of genetic diseases that affect humans, too. The technology can also help clone endangered animals like tigers, leopards and wildcats, Kong said.
The three cats - all Turkish Angoras - were created by taking skin cells from donor female cats and using a harmless virus to insert the gene for 'Red Fluorescent Protein' (RFP) into the nucleus of each cell, thereby altering its genetic code. The nuclei of the donor female's egg cells were then removed and replaced with the gene-altered nuclei of the skin cells, to create a cloned embryo.
To find out if they had been successful in their attempt at creating gene-altered embryos, the researchers implanted the cloned embryos back into the donor females to show that the cloned kittens did indeed glow-in-the-dark, indicating that they expressed RFP in their skin.
The three cats were reportedly born by caesarian section in January and February of this year. Although one was a stillbirth, the scientists claim that it too had expressed the RFP protein throughout its body, indicating that their methods had worked in all three cats. The scientists hope that the ability to create animals that mimic human diseases can speed up efforts to find treatment and drugs by allowing scientists to study animals and conduct experiments that are not possible with human patients. With the current price tag of tens of thousands of dollars to clone a single cat, glow-in-the-dark pets are unlikely to become a commercial venture in the near future.
The discovery was announced last week in a press release by the government managed Korea.net news service, however peer reviewed papers and replications of the same experiment will be eagerly awaited to prove the validity of these results.
Sources and References
Red Fluorescent Cat Cloned
Korean scientists clone red fluorescent cats