Another cat that glows in the dark

I've heard that all cats are grey in the dark, but I guess that's no longer true in New Orleans. Scientists at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species have made a cloned kitty that glows lime green.

Some of you already know my fascination with glowing fish, fluorescent cats, and cloned puppies. This New Orleans cat is interesting too, partly, because it's the first transgenic cat made in this country, and partly because of the work that ACRES has been doing to try and rescue endangered species.

i-809f2462b4099b418c4e6404f27997eb-ditteaux250x170.jpgACRES has made the headlines before. Dr. C. Earle Pope and Dr. Martha Gomez, with Dr. Alex Cole, who worked on Mr. Green Genes, also cloned endangered African wildcats. Ditteaux is shown in this photo.

One of my readers sent links to some photos of Mr. Green Genes.

i-0b222d43f3c5438ae19683f6dfc43841-glowing_kitty.pngYou can see him here and in more pictures from the Times Picayune: here and here.

The earlier project was focused on preserving endangered species.

"The goal is to use whatever tools we can to help boost these populations," said Dr. Dresser, who also serves as Research Professor of Biology and the Virginia Kock/Audubon Institute Endowed Chair in Species Survival and Conservation at the University of New Orleans. "While no single approach is going to solve the incredibly complex problem of disappearing wildlife, cloning is critically important in the race against extinction."


Mr. Green Genes (the transgenic kitty) contains a jellyfish gene that codes for green fluorescent protein, and glows because he's making GFP. The procedure that helped researchers put the gene into the cat could help researchers understand more about putting genes into other creatures, and using genes as therapeutic tools.

You can read more about Mr. Green Genes and ACRES here and find a link to a video here.

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I think it's interesting that they've chosen to mask the very obvious popular ethical implications of this research with "saving endangered species" and "cute, harmless green-glowing kitties."

Glowing kitties and DTC genomic testing for earwax ---clever tactics.

That said, I'm not expression caution, just amusement.


You're mixing up different groups and their motivations.

The Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species has this mission:

The mission of the Audubon Institute Center for Research of Endangered Species and the Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center is to safeguard endangered plants and animals for future generations through innovative scientific programs that accelerate reproduction and preserve the earth's genetic heritage.

- from the ACRE web site.

The Audubon Center is a non-profit group and I can't see how they would be masking anything. They do not do any kind of Direct to Cosumer (DTC) genomic testing, and I doubt they care about ear wax.

Now, you might ask "how did they get involved with making transgenic cats? "

That project came about after some seminars where they presented their work on cloning endangered species. Some gene therapy researchers, asked the ACRES group if they could look at making transgenic cats.

You may be unaware of this, but researchers have been making transgenic animals (mostly mice) since 1982 (Nature 306, 332 - 336 (24 November 1983); doi:10.1038/306332a0). Mice are easy, but cats and other animals aren't as easy as mice.

I'm not sure why you would think this would be an ethical issue, other than the question of whether you feel animal research is okay or not.

In any case, I can't see why you think this topic is related to DTC.

And in case you're wondering, my employer doesn't work on DTC either. We sell software to labs, not consumers.


I'm in no way claiming that ACRE is doing anything wrong, and I personally support both genetic engineering and DTC genomic testing, which yes, I understand are completely separate entities. I also think that most "ethical discussions" are self-aggrandizing fear-mongering chit-chat ---very rarely scientific or even worth entertaining.

I'm interested because we're genetic engineering life. That's a sensitive ethical issue. "Glowing kitties" means that we're practicing increasingly complex genetic engineering techniques on increasingly complex animals and gradually familiarizing the public about it.

I mentioned DTC earwax testing is because that's another fluff story to slowly familiarize the public about the amazing implications of genomics. Instead of "we can genetically engineer animals," it's "we're trying to save endangered animals," and instead of "we can test your DNA with an Internet medical test," it's "we're trying to spread awareness and educate the public."

So, glowing kitties, like ear wax SNP tests, are simple, safe, easily achievable, press-friendly stories to gradually familiarize the public to genomics ---hopefully so people freak out less about some anti-Christ Gataca 1984 nightmare as the science advances.

Sometimes it's hard to forget how many people voted for W the last 8 years when you work in science.

Andrew - I see what you mean now, although I still don't think anyone is trying to hide anything.

If anything, it's possible that the Audubon Society scientists think like me, that the genetic engineering train left the station a long, long time ago. After all, this all started happening in 1973 when the first gene was cloned into E. coli (reference).

I first started cloning genes into bacteria and plants in the 80's. By now, I take it for granted that genetic engineering is a fact of life.

Is there a reason not to engineer animals? or plants?

I don't see any reason not to do this. Horizontal DNA transfer is a natural process. Viruses do it. Bacteria do it. And genome sequences are showing us that horizontal transfer is much more common than we ever thought.

Is there a reason that it would be okay for bacteria or viruses to insert DNA into other organisms and not for humans?

After all, we've learned to accept flying in airplanes.

Andrew - Now, you're making me think that I should write more about synthetic biology, a field goes way beyond simple genetic engineering.